When death comes calling, so does Oscar the cat

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/07/25/death.cat.ap/index.html

    PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) -- Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours.
    [​IMG]Oscar the cat doesn't like to be put out in the hall when a patient is dying.


    His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.
    "He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," Dr. David Dosa said in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
    "Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.
    The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.
    After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.
    Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. "This is not a cat that's friendly to people," he said.
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    Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill
    She was convinced of Oscar's talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn't eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.
    Oscar wouldn't stay inside the room, though, so Teno thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor's prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient's final two hours, nurses told Teno that Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.
    Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advance warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.
    No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.
    Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa's article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.
    If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it's also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.
    Nursing home staffers aren't concerned with explaining Oscar, so long as he gives families a better chance at saying goodbye to the dying.
    Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his "compassionate hospice care." E-mail to a friend [​IMG]
    Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
    All About Cats • Health and Fitness
  2. :heart:
  3. For some reason, this kind of creeped me out. *L* The whole grim reaper thing...I dunno.
  4. Oh so sad. OMG I could never work in a place like that. What a gorgeous cat.
  5. Yeah, animals have a sense for that kinda stuff...kinda freaky.
  6. Oh, I saw this on CNN earlier. I wouldnt want that cat near me if I worked there lmao. And if I was a patient in the nursing home and the cat came and sat on my bed he would be thrown out the window lmao. Hes super cute, and I dont advocate pet abuse...but god that would scare the **** out of me if he came to sit next to me!
  7. They did say that since most of these people were/are terminally ill that they are pretty much out of it and aren't alert enough to notice the cat is even there.
  8. Wow that is a little freaky. If I lived/worked in that nursing home, I would want that cat to stay the hell away from me.

    But it's true that animals have this instinct and can sense stuff that humans can't. It's amazing.
  9. Wow, that is incredible.
  10. My Mom told me about this earlier today, and I have to say it's pretty darn morbid...
  11. Depending on the animal, some just have a higher sense. When my father in law decided to no longer have chemo to treat his cancer and was in hospice care, this family dog (a corgi) wouldn't leave his bed. It was so obvious he knew. I think it's endearing this cat curls up next to them in their final hours of something that's inevitable. Even if the patients seem comatose before passing, they may feel him there next to them. When my dad was in the nursing home, it's suprising at the number of residents who have no family to visit them, and end up passing alone.
  12. I worked in a similar unit as the one mentioned in the article for almost five years while in nursing school/after. It is a little morbid, but I bet it is true that it would be hard to distinguish how he knows- be it nurses' behavior or scents. There is usually a different scent to the terminally ill/aged person in their last hours of life- as well as how the staff reacts. I'd love to see more research done. He truly may just have a knack for knowing. I love this article. He's a cutie! Thanks for posting this, Lanie.
  13. i saw this on the news this morning... since he's in a place where the people are terminally ill... i think it's kinda nice.. however i don't know how i'd feel if i had family member in there and i was visiting and the cat came walking in...
  14. I don't think it is that morbid... This is a nursing home that is a dimentia unit, so most patients unfortunately are not aware of the surroundings. I think it is neat that Oscar can give some family a chance to say the final goodbye, and rather than dying 'alone', there is a little creature there along beside them... If you read the actual article from the New Englang Journal of Medicine (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/4/328) it gives you an idea of that. I would not mind if I was in that state to have a cat like Oscar coming to escort me;). The Grim Rea-PURR! Or on the flip side, an Angel guiding patients to the 'next' world...
    It just tells you also that animals can sense something that we humans cannot (like they can predict earthquakes, etc).
  15. that is sooo true.
    I still wouldnt want the cat near me though. But then again Im not in the position of those patients either!