Say Goodnight

Welcome to Anita’s Owl Creek Bridge Oscar, I think you’re going to feel right at home.

amm

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Cat predicts deaths of nursing home residents

By Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (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 they have less than four hours to live.

“He doesn’t make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” said Dr. David Dosa 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 advanced 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.”

 

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23 thoughts on “Say Goodnight

  1. Weird. I read somewhere that there is a spectre of a cat that appears from time to time in the capital building (I think). It only appears when something bad is going to happen on a nationwide scale. I’ll have to go back and see if I can find info on this.

    I am convinced that some cats are not really cats. Like Blitzer.

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  2. Nice article. Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me one bit.

    My cat, Jerry, is pretty apt at knowing when I’m sick. He seems to understand when someone doesn’t feel well, and makes sure to spend extra time with that person.

    Oh, and I vote harbinger too.

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  3. Hi Tony!

    When Wolfie ( aka Insanity Jones ) was a young cat he used to bring me all kinds of neat presents when I was sick- you can’t help but to feel flattered when a cat does something like that.

    Some cats just seem to be more in tune with their humans then others- I think it’s a choice, which in itself is food for thought.

    That’s two for Harbinger-
    amm

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  4. I am not surprised. I’ve had cats all my life and sometimes they just freak me right out with that I-can-see-into-your-SOUL-look.

    I had a cat that definitely communicated with spirits. And I’ve lived in a house with four other people who all claimed to have seen a “ghost cat” in the house.

    Great post!

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  5. It is interesting to me the cat has chosen sitting with the dying as an occupation. If I am lucky, perhaps a cat will sit with me during my last hours.

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  6. Hi Max,
    I’m with you on that one- it is an interesting choice, and I’m sure a cat will be with me too- on the other hand I’ve had cats my entire life so it only makes sense that….

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  7. Several years ago I was diagnosed with a severe chronic illness and was bed-ridden for a few months until they got my medication straightened out. My cat slept curled around my head by my face every day. When I turned over, he would get up and walk around and sit by my face again.

    After I got better, he died of cancer. I always thought he was taking my pain from me, taking the illness himself.

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  8. I read it a long time ago when I was a kid, and at the time I was unclear on whether the animal chose to take the illness on out of love, or whether it was imposed on the animal. In the story, it was a woman recounting being very ill as a child, and her grandmother performed whatever the ritual was and her pet owl died after and she recovered.

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  9. Hi Max,
    That reminded me of Santeria, sometimes ( it’s rare ) an animal will be sacraficed to cure a sick person.

    But this story sounds different, I mean the Pet was an Owl- sounds interesting, I’d like to track that story down.

    amm

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  10. Fascinating article. Animals do know things. I have seen info on tv about dogs that can sniff cancer in people. We just don’t give our furry friends enough credit most of the time.

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  11. Death cat knows it too Tom- hey love your new look at your blog

    Dolly and She Wolf- you can feed them and you can love them and in the end the Cat belongs to no one.

    Which is something I admire.

    amm

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