If this cat jumps on your bed…

August 6, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Photo credit The AgeCame across this great story from The Age. We’ve all heard of pets as a therapeutic modality – helping to soothe and improve the well-being of the sick, the elderly or the injured. But I’m not too sure about Oscar. Seems Oscar is a very special feline. He spends his time around sick people but he’s more like the grim reaper of the cat world because if Oscar jumps on a person’s bed and fastidiously licks his paws, seems that person’s number is up.

Oscar has an uncanny instinct for death and “attends” deaths. Apparently, Oscar is insistent on attending deaths (what’s in this cat’s chow I wonder?). Oscar works in the dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Providence, Rhode Island. As dementia patients enter their final hours, Oscar waltzes through the door and jumps on the sick bed. He’s not interested in making an entrance if the patient has days or weeks left – only if death is near.

Now, if you’re about to check out of this world, the sight of a “Cat of Death” might just hasten your exit if you ask me. Animal behaviourists can’t explain Oscar’s predilection for hovering around death scenes but suspect he might be attuned to a subtle change in a patient’s metabolism. Oscar jumps on the bed, preens himself and settles in, which medical staff take as their cue to quickly summon relatives to bid farewell to their loved one.

With the state of the health system these days, medicos might want to study this cat. As one doctor quipped: “His instincts that a patient is about to die are often more acute than the instincts of medical professionals.” Oscar puts on a good show – he’s part of a scene that includes subtle lighting, aromatherapy oils and soft music. Guess if you gotta go, there could be worse ways to snuff it.

Humans and animals can have very close and empathetic relationships, so I’m not surprised by Oscar’s uncanny abilities. I just don’t want him leaping onto my bed anytime too soon! Seems the Steere Centre, which was founded in 1874 and currently has 120 patients, is quite a special place – animal residents include six cats, some parakeets and a floppy-eared rabbit. No word on what it might mean for a patient should the rabbit show up or a parakeet fly by.

As Baby Boomers shuffle off to retirement and start to fill up nursing homes, animals hopefully will play a bigger role in comforting the sick and elderly. As someone who has recently spent the last few months visiting a family member in an elderly care facility, I can tell you these facilities need all the help they can get. We need to bring more humanity, dignity and gentleness to caring for the elderly. So Oscar might spook some people, but I think he’s a pretty spesh cat. I’ve pinched the photo of Oscar from The Age. Is it just me or are Oscar’s eyes mesmerizing? mmmm….better stop looking at this cat’s photo!

UPDATE: 3/1/2010 seems that Oscar is pretty accurate. US scientist, David Dosa, was sceptical when first told that Oscar snuggles up to patients in their final hours. But he’s tracked Oscar’s success rate over 5 years and it seems the feline made 50 correct calls during this time. Oscar is even included in newspaper death notices and eulogies. Dr Dosa has released a book,  Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, in which he theorises that Oscar can smell odours given off by dying cells (this is like the recent news of dogs sniffing out cancer).

Entry filed under: Animals, Curiousity, Good news story.

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