Oscar the nursing home cat can sense death
Published Thursday, July 26, 2007 10:39AM EDT
His name is Oscar. He's not the friendliest cat. But he has an uncanny knack for predicting within hours when nursing home patients with whom he lives are about to die.
Oscar lives at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, and is the subject of a fascinating essay in this week's issue of the prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.
What makes Oscar special is his ability to sense when one of the hospice's residents is about to die.
Every day, Oscar makes his rounds among the patients, entering each room and giving each patient a sniff. When he senses that someone is near the end of his or life, he will hop onto their bed and curl up beside them. Within hours, without fail, the patient will die.
Oscar has demonstrated his prognostication skills at least 25 times. He's considered so accurate that nursing home staff will immediately call family members once Oscar has chosen someone, since it usually means they have less than four hours to live.
Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician from Brown University in Providence, tells Oscar's story, noting that the feline has never been wrong yet.
"His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death," Dosa writes.
Raised at the nursing home since he was a kitten, Oscar is described as aloof -- even, at times, grouchy. But when he is on a death watch, he is as warm as can be. He will nuzzle a dying patient and purr, perhaps trying to offer whatever comfort he can.
"For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves," Dosa writes.
The staff appreciates Oscar so much, a local hospice agency has even erected a plaque to him that reads: "For his compassionate hospice care, this plaque is awarded to Oscar the Cat."