ARLINGTON — A local cat shelter recently received a big boost from the Internet fame of an area cat, whose owners teamed up with Friskies to provide free cat food to the shelter.
“Oskar the Blind Cat” is owned by Mick Szydlowski and his wife Bethany, who moved to Seattle from Omaha, Neb., about a year ago. They acquired Oskar in July of 2011 when he was only eight and a half weeks old, and they began posting videos of him on YouTube “just for silly fun.”
Oskar’s distinctive appearance, which owes to the microphthalmia that’s left him blind since birth, earned him lots of fans on the Internet, and before the Szydlowskis knew it, their kitten had become online peers with Grumpy Cat, Colonel Meow, Nala Cat and Hamilton the Hipster Cat, all of whom were chosen by Friskies to costar in their holiday music video this year. That same online music promotion generated 100,000 cans of cat food from Friskies for Purrfect Pals of Arlington, which was chosen by Mick Szydlowski to be Oskar’s pet charity.
“We were relatively new to the area, so I started researching local shelters,” Szydlowski said. “Ideally, we wanted it to be a no-kill sanctuary, and we knew that 100,000 cans of cat food could be too few for the numbers of cats that some of these establishments serve, so Purrfect Pals just seemed like the right fit.”
Connie Gabelein, executive director of Purrfect Pals in Arlington, expected that the first installment of cat food from Friskies would be delivered near the end of this month, and estimated that the shelter could sustain its cat food needs for the rest of next year with 100,000 cans, although she noted that the Friskies supply wouldn’t last that long if Purrfect Pals chose to share it with the customers of their pet food bank.
“We have a food bank for low-income cat owners, along with free spaying and neutering services, and an ‘Angel Fund’ that can serve as a onetime fix for struggling families who need to pay off something expensive, like a vet bill,” Gabelein said. “We’re also looking to expand our facilities and improve our property for our 25th anniversary. We handle about 2,000 cat adoptions a year, half of which are kittens, and 90 percent of all those adoptions are conducted off site, at places like PetSmart and Petco. That leaves us with about 250 cats in our sanctuary at any given time, many of whom suffer from illnesses such as feline immunodeficiency virus or leukemia, or else are old or feral.”
Purrfect Pals has its own veterinary clinic on site to deal with such issues, staffed by one full-time veterinarian and four full-time veterinary assistants. Although Mick and Bethany Szydlowski hadn’t had a chance to visit Purrfect Pals before selecting it as the recipient of the cat food that Oskar earned from Friskies, they finally stopped by earlier this month, and were impressed by its setup.
“It looks like we chose the right organization,” Mick Szydlowski said, as he fetched Oskar out of his cat-carrier, to explore the cat towers and other furniture of the sanctuary’s social area for its own cats. “As busy as you are, you’re obviously fulfilling your mission,” Szydlowski told Gabelein and Kathy Centala, the founder and director of Purrfect Pals.
“Snohomish County is a completely different landscape now, “ Centala said. “Nobody was doing spaying or neutering services back then. Now, you can’t even adopt a cat that’s unaltered.”
For their part, the Szydlowskis are also doing what they can to support less fortunate cats, although — unlike Purrfect Pals, which is a recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit organization — Mick and Bethany’s operation is for-profit, albeit one which donates healthy portions of its proceeds to cat-centric charities and other causes that the couple agrees are appropriate.
“All the products we feature on our blog are made in the U.S., non-toxic and, when possible, organic,” Mick Szydlowski said. “We don’t promote a product unless it’s been tested by our cats, to make sure it’s high-quality, durable and fun for them to play with. We don’t push throwaway stuff.”
The blog that the Szydlowskis set up for Oskar can be found at www.blindoskar.com, and Oskar’s Facebook page is www.facebook.com/BlindOskar. You can watch the clip that earned Oskar the Best Cat Video of the Year Award from Friskies, for 2012, at http://youtu.be/U0vIdvJIjGk.