July 27, 2007


The cat’s name is Oscar.  Why is he special, you ask?  The resident cat at the Steere nursing home in Rhode Island has the ability to predict when a patient is going to die:

When Oscar curls up on a patient’s bed and stays there, the staff knows it’s time to call the family. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.

The feline’s accuracy has been observed in 25 cases at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

“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 Oscar was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at Steere House, which treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed the cat would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He’d sniff and observe patients, and those he stayed with 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.

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.

Please don’t misconstrue the picture of Oscar(that I captioned) as me being flip about the people in the nursing home(and their families).  Anyone who reads my blog knows I adore cats.  Dogs get most of the press when it comes to helping people.  That’s why I loved this story.  It disabuses the stereotype that cats don’t have a bond with humans.


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