Klaus and Juno Bring Oskar the Blind Cat's Mission to meowfest
When Mick and Bethany Szydlowski picked up a tiny, blind kitten from a farm in 2011, they had no idea they were bringing home a future star.
Oskar—fondly known to the internet cat community as Oskar the Blind Cat—was born with a condition called microphthalmia, which prevented his eyes from fully developing. He rose to fame when a Youtube video of him playing with a hair dryer went viral.
Since then, he starred in a series of braille children’s books with his loyal sidekick, the Amazing Klaus, and served as the braille literacy ambassador for the National Federation of the Blind. Through his advocacy and social media, he gave visibility to animals that may have once been deemed “unadoptable”, showing us that they are fully capable of leading happy, enriched lives.
Though Oskar sadly passed away last year, his legacy lives on through Klaus and Klaus’s new sister, Juno, whose eyes were removed due to sustained trauma at birth. Together, they continue to spread the message of compassion.
We reached out to Mick to learn more about Oskar’s lasting impact, their approaching appearance at meowfest, and the recent whiskered addition to the Szydlowski family.
meowfest: After you adopted Oskar, was there a specific moment that inspired you to start raising awareness about special needs pets?
Mick Szydlowski: Our goal was simply to share the experience of living with Oskar, and hopefully break down some of the low expectations that people have for blind animals. We had some of these misconceptions or prejudices initially, but Oskar showed us immediately that nothing would stop him from achieving his goals. He radiated a sort of positive energy that was easy to capture in photos and videos, so chronicling his daily adventures was something that we looked forward to. From the start on YouTube in 2011 we moved on to Facebook and Instagram, and the mission of awareness grew steadily with the months and years that passed. What's really amazing is that Oskar continues to educate and inspire eight years later!
mf: It goes without saying that Oskar touched and educated many. On a more personal scale, how did adopting a special needs cat, and the global reception Oskar garnered through his advocacy, impact you and your family’s lives?
MS: The fact that Oskar developed a very large (and highly-engaged) fan base from around the world allowed us to work on behalf of smaller shelters that were unable to reach a wider audience. We were able to find homes for countless blind and special-needs cats and dogs, to raise funds for charitable projects, and to share Oskar's inspirational story with a wide audience. We were also able to publish children's books based on the adventures of Oskar and his sidekick, Klaus, and those ultimately found their way into classrooms across the country. The entrepreneurial endeavors gave us the ability to work from home more often, and thus engage with not only the cats but our two daughters much more. This ultimately brought us all much closer together!
mf: What would you say to a family who is interested in adopting a special needs pet but has hesitations?
MS: People generally have many, many questions about what the experience with a special-needs pet will really be like. When it comes to adopting special-needs pets, the key is to commit yourself to adopting without knowing all of the answers. There is an inherent uncertainty with pets that have medical issues, but many require a lot less work that what you initially expect. You have to understand that there will be challenges, but also rewards you never imagined. Ultimately, be ready for some trial-and-error, rely on common sense, and turn to the internet and social media and ask others with similar pets for advice.
mf: We love Klaus and Juno's relationship! How is Klaus adjusting to having a little sister? Was the bond instantaneous or did it take some coaxing?
MS: The friendship was absolutely instantaneous, and they formed a close bond without any input from us. We brought Juno home prepared to keep her separated for a period of time and introduced to Klaus gradually. This is based on our past experience with Klaus; it took about a solid week for him to accept Oskar. Anyway, Juno poked her head out of the carrier and Klaus gave her a lick, and that was that! We felt comfortable enough to leave them unsupervised later that day. It's safe to say that Klaus needed a buddy again.
mf: What are Klaus and Juno the most looking forward to when it comes to meowfest?
MS: We think they are looking forward to interacting with lots of people! They are definitely not timid when it comes to being surrounded by new humans. We suspect that for Klaus this will be a reunion with some fans that he met in the past. All in all, this will be an adventure, and that's the way Oskar, Klaus, and Juno have always lived their lives: to the fullest!