Animal Compassion: Oscar, The Cat That Predicts Death

In this July 23, 2007 file photo, Oscar, a hospice cat with an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, walks past an activity room at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I. Dr. David D
In this July 23, 2007 file photo, Oscar, a hospice cat with an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, walks past an activity room at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I. Dr. David D

Oscar the cat has become quite a celebrity despite his rough-looking appearance and disdainful attitude. He has had a book written about him along with various articles in magazines and on the web; and, even one in a medical journal. Oscar is no one’s cat - he has been known to turn up his nose and walk away when offered a little affection.

Oscar’s story begins in 2005 when the staff of a nursing home adopted him. The medium-haired cat with a gray and brown back and white belly was chosen to be the final touch in making Steere House a home. It was supposed to be Oscar’s job to play with visiting children; and, provide a calming, distraction for visitors and personnel alike.

However, Oscar had other plans. He knew he had bigger work to do. He had a job to perform, a role to play at this facility; and, nothing was going to stop him. In time, Oscar’s stellar performance and record of excellence caused him to become a trusted and valued member of the staff at Steere House.

So, what role does this rescue cat play that has allowed him to become a valued member of the medical team at Steere Home?

It took about a year for his gift to be recognized; but, eventually the staff noticed Oscar’s strange behaviour. He would spend his days and nights pacing from room to room at regular intervals. The doctors at the nursing home had their rounds and Oscar had his.

At each room he would stop, look at the patient(s), sniff the air and move on to the next room. He very rarely entered the rooms – except when the patient inside was about to die. Once a patient had only a few hours to live, Oscar would jump onto their bed and lay beside them in a silent vigil.

Oscar is so accurate that the staff know it’s time to alert family members to the imminent passing of their loved one once Oscar stretches out on the bed beside the patient. Usually, the patient is so ill they have no idea that Oscar is there; however, if kept outside the room of a dying patient, Oscar will cry while scratching at the door and wails until he is let in to do his job.

Once the staff thought Oscar’s amazing streak of prophecy had come to an end when they placed him on the bed of a critically ill patient and he wouldn’t stay. Oscar jumped to the floor and left the room. Staff were confused. What had happened to Oscar's uncanny ability?

The patient actually rallied and survived another two days. When the end came, Oscar needed no reminders to take up his place beside the patient for the final few hours. In this case, the medical profession was wrong; Oscar, the cat, was right.

Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and professor at Brown University, is the doctor who wrote the book “Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat”. He works on the third floor of Steere House which treats patients with severe dementia. Once patients get to Steere House they may already be too ill to speak or recognize friends, spouses and loved ones. Many will spend their last days fluctuating between the past and the present.

At first, Dr. Dosa thought Oscar might spook out the families with his strange talent. Oscar had become a semi-celebrity thanks to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine submitted by Dr. Dosa himself. To his surprise, the families embraced Oscar and even praised his work in newspaper obituaries and eulogies.

"People actually were taking great comfort in this idea, that this animal was there and might be there when their loved ones eventually pass," Dosa said. "He was there when they couldn't be."

"Maybe they're seeing what they want to see," he said, "but what they're seeing is a comfort to them in a real difficult time in their lives."

Dr. Dosa theorizes that Oscar may be able to detect odours given off by dying cells that humans can’t detect. No one knows whether there is a distinct odour to dying that animals can detect; but, logic would say there is. Dogs have been trained to detect drugs, cadavers, and even cancer just using their incredible acute sense of smell. Cats have a similarly sense of smell. Perhaps Oscar really can smell death.

Even if the mystery of how Oscar always knows when death is just hours away is dispelled, nothing explains why this one-time stray chooses to keep vigil with the dying until they eventually pass over. One thing is certain, as long as Oscar lives, no one at Steere House will ever die alone.

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Comments 11 comments

hypnodude profile image

hypnodude 6 years ago from Italy

Great pippap, please go on writing on animals, I love those hubs. My two cents opinion is that Oscar sees something, not that I know but based on the fact that many cats can stay for hours looking at the space between the refrigerator and the wall. Well, mine did. Dog smell and cat sight. Maybe one day we'll know more. Great hub, thumb up. :) And I'd add that were possible having pets in hospitals would be wonderful for many patients.


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 6 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Excellent hub. I have heard of Oscar before and only wish I had thought to hub about him (although I cannot remember if I was on Hubpages then). Truly he is an amazing cat, and I would sure like to have him by my side when I eventually find my "time is up". Well done for writing this, (I just fanned you as a result).


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 6 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

PS. for what it is worth (and no, I'm not a nut job), but right now this hub is scored at 51, which coincidentally happens to be the number I associate with my late Husband, (it was his call sign when he was a taxi driver), i.e. when he wants to comfort me, draw my attention to something or support me, this number seems to turn up, be it on a number plate of a car, on a ticket or in a place like hubpages. I guess he too must approve of your hub to guide me here and remind me of Oscar :)


lisaluv9784 profile image

lisaluv9784 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

I saw something about Oscar the cat on TV once. I think it might have been on Animal Planet,but im not exactly sure. I remember because it was an amazing story,and reading about it on here was just as enjoyable. Good job. :)


sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

Hi! This was interesting. Thanks.


Tusitala Tom profile image

Tusitala Tom 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Pippap, I admire your writing style and the unusual things you write about. Yep, I'm going to become a follower. Maybe Oscar can not only smell, but actually see what is going on. I once had an experience where I saw my wife's Astral Body partially out (she was sleeping) of her physical body. Just maybe...Oscar can see the soul (Astral) about to depart the body. Maybe he even likes to witness it. Just a thought...


Samser 5 years ago

I am a montheism believer , a Muslim. I think only religion can explain better the phenomenon. Science can make supposition. Let me explain, when someone is going to die, the Angel of Death (according to Islam - Jews and Christianity) come to take the soul out of the body. The soul is removed from the body through some procedures by the Angel of Death (the angels who's task is such). Cat's and also other animals sometimes has that smell or can even feel things we cannot. As God has not given us these senses. So I think Oscar has not necessarily more senses than other cats, but like the feelings of either the presence of the Angel of death or the removal and departure of the soul. Of course he can smell the presence of the angel of death before. may be its something that attracts Oscar.


Sandy Frost profile image

Sandy Frost 4 years ago from India

This had been heard about animals having some kind of supernatural or extra-sensory ability as dogs, cats etc. can predict such entities naturally and this time, I'm reading a live and real example of Oscar, this is really amazing and interesting.

Thanks for sharing this hub as such an example came into knowledge. Voted up.


Virtual Treasures profile image

Virtual Treasures 4 years ago from Michigan

I had never heard of Oscar. How amazing! You never know in the hustle and bustle of life if we are missing things that our own pets may see or smell. I was amazed to find out that they know have trained service dogs to detect blood sugar highs and lows in diabetics, and seizures in epileptics. Animals truly are amazing!


quicksand profile image

quicksand 4 years ago

Many many years ago when a cat of ours was dying, he was visited by another cat we had never seen before. He kept company with the dying cat for a long period of time.

There's much about cats we don't know.


pippap profile image

pippap 4 years ago from Surrey, BC Author

Thanks for your comment. Cats do indeed have a sixth sense.

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