I read with interest in the New England Journal of Medicine (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/4/328) about the two year old cat Oscar. Dr. David Dosa says Oscar was adopted by staff members at a nursing home in Providence, Rhode Island as a kitten. After about six months the staff noted that he would make his own rounds of patients. He’s go in, sniff, observe and either leave or stay. If he stayed, the staff realized he had an uncanny ability to know when one the nursing home residents was going to die. After he would curl up and remain in the room death soon followed. Then Oscar would get up and leave going back to his bed.
Dosa writes that Oscar "presided over" the death of twenty five people in this manner. His mere presence at a bed side has become an absolute indicator of an impending death to the staff who now notify families that the patient only has a few hours left before dying. The staff have mounted a plaque on the wall to Oscar which reads "For his compassionate hospice care, this plague is awarded to Oscar the cat.
Various explanations have been offered for his sense of knowing who is about to die, including perhaps the fact the staff might put a warm blanket on the patient which is why he climbs up on the bed with the patient, but I prefer to think there is a animal sense we do not understand nor can explain. So here’s to Oscar the cat who comforts the dying and alerts the staff to impending death.