Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Puddycat of Death

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) -- Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours.

His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.
"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 feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.
After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who 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.

She was convinced of Oscar's talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn't eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.
Oscar wouldn't stay inside the room, though, so Teno thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor's prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient's final two hours, nurses told Teno that Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advance warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.

Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa's article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.
If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it's also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.
Nursing home staffers aren't concerned with explaining Oscar, so long as he gives families a better chance at saying goodbye to the dying.

Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his "compassionate hospice care."

Oscar the cat sounds like a sweetie, but if I see him coming I'm running the other way!-lol


Blogger LET'S TALK said...

I'll be running right with you, awya from this cat.

I don't think this is anything that I would like to know in advance about a family member or myself.

7/29/2007 7:42 AM  
Blogger pissed off patricia said...

Fred the Cat wants to make it clear that he doesn't have Oscar's gift. He can drive people crazy at times, but he gives no hints of death.

7/30/2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

This was intresting, animals can sense a lot of things that we are totally clueless about.

I thought it was nice that they had something there with them. Having worked in a nursing home, I know that there isn't always a family member or friend with somebody when the pass, so the cat might be welcomed company.

7/30/2007 10:56 AM  
Blogger FunkyTown Fighter said...

I totally believe animals can feel when a person is sick or close to dying. My grandfather has been in the hospital numerous times and each time BOTH his dogs get sad and just kind of wander around the house aimlesly. As soon as he gets home they are back to normal playing and cuddling as usual. People don't give them the credit they deserve. But I'm with you if Oscar comes my way I'm running the other direction! LOL...........

7/30/2007 1:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

There was a cartoon the other day about this cat. It showed an elephant (representing the GOP in 2008) and the cat was rubbing up against the elephant and purring.

Who Hijacked Our Country

7/30/2007 2:02 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

Let's Talk, me either!
Pop, well Fred has many other talents, like blogging, so I'm sure he's not envious of Oscar's skill.
Jenn, yeah it's really sad that some people end up dying alone. Everyone deserves to have someone or some cat present for that final goodbye.
Funkytown, I agree that animals don't get the credit they deserve. Just because they can't speak to us doesn't mean they're not very smart and aware.
Tom, that's hilarious!! Thanks for sharing.

8/01/2007 3:37 AM  
Blogger Simply Bananas said...

guess some animals can just sense stuff, like how cows in a pasture will lay down when rain is coming or the way rats know to get off a sinking ship even before the ships crew knows something is wrong.

8/01/2007 1:34 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Oscar is a death-trollop.

8/02/2007 7:33 PM  
Blogger Candace said...

"The Puddycat of Death"

8/05/2007 10:11 PM  
Anonymous avenuez said...

This sincerely gives me the creeps.

9/24/2007 8:58 PM  
Blogger just me - titration said...

Woh. I just read this article about 10 minutes ago in an assignment for school and then was blog surfing and found it on your blog. Crazy. Good stuff.

10/09/2007 2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your blog, it always has great insight. But I am very frustrated with the media’s lack of questions to the presidential candidates about global warming. Now that it is down to just a few candidates I would think that this would be a bigger issue.

Live Earth just picked up this topic and put out an article ( ) asking why the presidential candidates are not being solicited for their stance on the issue of the climate change. I just saw an article describing each candidate’s stance on global warming and climate change on . So obviously they care about it. Is it the Medias fault for not asking the right questions or is it the candidates’ fault for not highlighting the right platforms? Does anyone know of other websites or articles that touch on this subject and candidates’ views? This is the biggest problem of the century and for generations to come…you would think the next president of the United States would be more vocal about it.

2/22/2008 2:33 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Oh my, a cat of doom.

12/16/2008 11:44 AM  

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