Oskar the Blind Cat and his sidekick, The Klaus, have been advocating for special needs animals worldwide since 2012 – and now their advocacy work is literally going out of this world!
Mick and Bethany Szydlowski adopted Oskar in July 2011 and in the six years since, Oskar has educated millions of people about differently abled animals and people.
“We’ve been continuing our work with the National Federation for the Blind,” Mick Szydlowski explained. “In July of last year, we received the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award, which is presented by them. It was in honor of Oskar’s children’s books.”
The Bolotin Awards, which don’t go out every year, recognize individuals and organizations that work in the field of blindness that have demonstrated extraordinary accomplishments and exemplary leadership toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality. Winning this award was a great honor for the Szydlowski family.
“We’re looking to make strides to integrate blind people into society,” Mick said.
Part of that integration is ensuring that blind people can enjoy the Oskar & Klaus books just as much as sighted people can. “The Oskar & Klaus books have been converted to Braille, which is normally really expensive, but these are affordable,” Mick said.
“And a physical copy of Oskar’s second book, Mission to Cataria, was sent to NASA for testing. It’s scheduled to go up in a space capsule on August 1st and the book will actually physically travel to the International Space Station. Crewmembers will read the book and conduct a series of nine experiments that are included in the book. These experiments were designed to illustrate some principles and how they tie in with our book and how a blind astronaut or scientist could still study,” Mick explained.
“We’re encouraging blind students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers, and we’re hoping to access a lot of students, both blind and sighted, and get them to unplug and enjoy the world around them. We want them to have an adventure, no matter how big or small.”
Mission to Cataria will be only the twelfth children’s book that has ever gone to the space station. It will remain at the station for several months until it’s returned in another capsule a few months later.
“Oskar’s story is a reminder that encourages people to take a chance on themselves,” Mick said. “He has such a thirst for life.”
Oskar will be traveling to LA in August, where he will be hosting Cat Con. Another famous special needs cat, Lil Bub, and her owner will also be present.
“We don’t represent the typical experiences with having a special needs cat, but we’ll discuss their challenges and what it’s been like,” Mick said.
They’re also working on a book to dispel misconceptions about blindness and on an Oskar plush toy. “It’s a plush toy Oskar, 14 inches tall, and it can stand up and use its tail as a tripod,” Mick said. “He’ll have a cane, just like a blind person. It’s the only toy of its kind with a cane. Lots of kids don’t like to use a cane, because it medicalizes blindness, but we’re trying to help overcome that.”
The Oskar plush toy may also accommodate an mp3 player in the removable backpack.
“We got the idea for the plush toy from the father of a little girl named Alina who had lost her sight,” Mick said. “Her father made the first Oskar toy, and that was the inspiration. Alina lost her eyes due to cancer at age two, and her father wanted to make her something special. She’s four now and she’s a lot like Oskar in spirit; she hopes to stop by and meet Oskar in person soon.”
Alina’s Dad recently participated in the BC Cancer Ride. “It starts in Vancouver, BC, and takes about two days, going through Mt. Vernon and then to Seattle,” Mick explained. “I couldn’t ride last year, but I registered and raised close to $5,000. I hope to be able to ride this year.”
The Szydlowski family recently welcomed baby Fern, in addition to two-year-old Faye, who is thriving with her feline family members. To learn more about Oskar and Klaus, visit their website at www.oskarandklaus.com.