Oscar is a common cat with an uncommon ability: He knows when someone is going to die. In fact, he has predicted the death of nursing home patients in more than 50 documented cases. And that makes Oscar an unusually cognizant cat – or is he? Is it some psychic ability, or could he be an angel sent to comfort the dying?
Taken in as a kitten seven years ago, Oscar was not very friendly and he was rarely seen. He didn’t want to sit in someone's lap or rub up against their leg or purr his morning melody in the kitchen near the fire. But that was before he became the harbinger of death at the Steele House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island. His predictions have rarely been inaccurate, but he has proven medical staff wrong more than once.
Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor at Brown University, believes in the cat’s predictive abilities. In 2007, Dosa revealed Oscar’s rare gift in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Oscar’s prognosis has been so accurate that the good doctor is convinced it's not just a series of coincidences.
Oscar starts his day by making the rounds of the 40-plus patients at the nursing home, visiting every patient but not stopping to spend time with any of them – unless he senses that the patient is at the end of his or her life.
Then Oscar will jump up on the furniture or onto the windowsill, patiently and quietly sitting for hours. Occasionally, he will jump onto the bed and curl up with the sick person, though that is pretty rare.
“The cat was difficult to be found, unless someone was in the dying process, and then he would be very much front and center,” Dosa said. “Then he’ll be there until the very end.”
“But it’s the effect he has on the caretakers that really makes the difference. Dementia takes so much from the patient, but it’s really the caretakers that suffer the most,” Dosa explained. Staying with terminal people and offering them solace and comfort when they’re at the end of their days is extremely stressful for the staff. So Oscar’s calm demeanor and compassionate care for the dying is an attitude not to be taken lightly.
“It’s the story of a remarkable cat,” said Dosa, who has written a book about Oscar called "Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat."
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