Meet Oscar, a cat with a supernatural ability to feel when people are about to die. In over 50 documented cases, Oscar, who lives in a nursing home , has curled up beside patients in their final hours, seeing them through to the ‘other side’.
His unique story was revealed by Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor at Brown University, who claims Oscar’s predictions have rarely been wrong in the past six years. In fact, he has even proved medical staff wrong at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island, where he was adopted seven years ago as a kitten.
Dr. Dosa first told the world about Oscar’s rare gift in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007. Since then, the cat has accurately sensed even more deaths, convincing the geriatrician that it wasn’t just a series of coincidences. Dr. Dosa eventually wrote a book about his experiences with Oscar at the nursing home. It’s called ‘Making rounds with Oscar: The extraordinary gift of an ordinary cat’.
Photo: David Dosa
The book describes Oscar’s daily routine, how he spends his time pacing from room to room at the nursing home, rarely spending time with patients who have still got a fighting chance of survival. Instead, he picks out certain patients and cuddles up next to them . These are often the ones who will pass away in a short time. If kept outside the room of a dying patient, he will scratch at the door, trying to get in.
In one instance, Oscar visited a woman who had a very severe blood clot in her leg, wrapping himself around her cold limb and staying by her side until she passed away. Another time, when the staff believed that Oscar was done with his rounds, he actually returned a few hours later to lay with one particular patient until he died.
Photo: David Dosa
In order to test his paranormal gift, the nurses at the nursing home tried placing Oscar on the bed of a patient they thought might be close to death. But the cat simply ‘charged out’ and went to sit with another patient. His judgement turned out to be correct – the second patient died the same evening, while the first one lived on for two more days.
In his book, Dr. Dosa doesn’t offer any scientific explanations for the cat’s abilities, but he does suggest that Oscar – like dogs that are reportedly able to smell cancer – might be able to smell ketones, which are distinctly odored biochemicals given off by dying cells.
Photo: David Dosa
Dr. Jill Goldman, a certified animal behaviorist in California, has a different theory – that Oscar’s predictions might be a learned behavior. “There has been ample opportunity for him to make an association between ‘that’ smell and death.” And according to animal behaviorist Dr. Daniel Estep, Oscar may only be recognizing the patients’ lack of movement and interpreting it as illness, as cats can often sense when their owners are sick.
Irrespective of the reason, patients and their families at the nursing home find comfort in Oscar’s presence, in the idea that the animal was there and might be there when their loved ones eventually pass. The staff have grown so confident of Oscar’s ESP that they now inform family members when he snuggles up with one of the patients.
“It’s not like he dawdles,” Dr. Dosa wrote. “He’ll slip out for two minutes, grab some kibble and then he’s back at the patient’s side. It’s like he’s literally on a vigil.” And although the nursing home keeps five other cats, none of the others have exhibited similar behavior.