Sometimes the most important life lessons come from the most unlikely places.
Simply by being himself, Omaha's own Oskar the Blind Cat became a YouTube superstar and now is the recipient of the first ever “Friskies Award” for the Best New Internet Cat Video of 2012. Viewers have said the videos teach them that a disability doesn't have to limit what you do.
The Friskies Awards — kind of the Oscars for cat videos — were held on Nov. 14 in Los Angeles. Oskar's award came with $15,000 and a year's supply of Friskies brand cat food. His video, “Oskar's First Toys,” took the grand prize.
Oskar was born with a condition called microphthalmia, which can cause blindness. His most popular video, “Oskar the Blind Kitten and His First Toys,” came out last year around Thanksgiving and has had more than 3 million views. The video depicts Oskar playing with toy balls with jingle bells inside.
One of Oskar's Facebook friends forwarded owners Mick and Bethany Szydlowski the award information. Though they typically don't enter Oskar's videos in competitions, they thought they'd give it a try.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to be involved because of the positive things Friskies does for the cats and we wanted to see if we could make it,” said Mick Szydlowski.
Unfortunately, Oskar and the other video stars didn't get to attend the show because a room full of nervous cats would have been too much.
“It was strange for us to be up there because we're not usually in the spotlight,” Szydlowski said, “but we are grateful and fortunate to have had this opportunity.”
Being an award winner is not the only new phase in Oskar's life. The cat and his family are moving to Seattle for new job opportunities and experiences.
“Omaha was wonderful. We made wonderful friends and Nebraska will always be home but we're ready for a new adventure in our lives,” Szydlowski said.
Omaha will always be a part of Oskar because it's where he got his start and grew up, he said.
The couple got the cat at a farm in Glenwood, Iowa. They have another cat, Klaus, and run the website OskarandKlaus.com to raise money for animal shelters. Oskar, Klaus and the Szydlowskis will continue that activity and produce more videos in Seattle.
Many Oskar fans say they like his videos because Oskar appears to be happy despite being blind.
“He's living life to its fullest,” Szydlowski said in an earlier interview.