The Cat Who Predicts Deaths
Oscar (born 2005) is a hospice cat who has been featured in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the book Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat for his apparent ability to predict the impending death of terminally ill patients.
History and abilities
Oscar was adopted as a kitten from an animal shelter and grew up in the third-floor dementia unit at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The unit treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses, most of whom are in the end stage of their illnesses (where death is imminent) and are generally unaware of their surroundings. Steere House bills itself as a "pet friendly" facility; no fewer than six pets reside at the facility, providing comfort to the patients.
After about six months, the staff noticed that Oscar, just like the doctors and nurses, would make his own rounds. Oscar would sniff and observe patients, then curl up to sleep with certain ones. What surprised the staff was that the patients with whom Oscar would sleep would generally die within two to four hours after Oscar's arrival. One of the first cases involved a patient who had a blood clot in her leg that was ice cold at the time. Oscar wrapped his body around her leg and stayed until the woman died. In another instance, the doctor had made a determination of impending death based on the patient's condition, while Oscar simply walked away, causing the doctor to believe that Oscar's streak (12 at the time) had ended. However, it would be later discovered that the doctor's prognosis was simply 10 hours too early – Oscar later visited the patient, who died 2 hours later.
Oscar's accuracy (standing at more than 50 reported instances as of early 2010) led the staff to institute a new and unusual protocol – once he was discovered sleeping with a patient, staff would call family members to notify them of the patient's (expected) impending death.
Most of the time the patient's family have no issue with Oscar being present at the time of death; on those occasions when he was removed from the room at the family's request, he was known to pace back and forth in front of the door and meow in protest. When present, Oscar stayed by the patient until they passed on.
Oscar was described by Dr. David Dosa as "not a cat that’s friendly to [living] people." One example of this was described in his NEJM article. When an elderly woman with a walker passed him by during his rounds, Oscar "[let] out a gentle hiss, a rattlesnake-like warning that [said] 'leave me alone.'"
Oscar has become friendlier in the past few years, and now stops to let people scratch behind his ears or rub his head. He continues to patrol the halls of Steere House’s third floor dementia unit, and continues to be mentioned routinely in obituaries and during funeral services. In 2010, Dr. Dosa published a very good book about Oscar: Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat
Article from Wikipedia and
the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center