PROVIDENCE, R.I. – 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.
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.
Here’s my take on this story — the cat doesn’t "predict" deaths so much as cause them.
Picture this: Mabel is an elderly person at the Steere House Center. She’s 94, very ill and feeble, and bed-ridden. Suddenly, this loveable furball jumps on her bed. "OMIGOD!" she thinks, "It’s OSCAR, the DEATH CAT! Whoever that cat goes near, dies within a few hours." Mabel goes into cardiac arrest, as anyone who would when visited by the Grim Reaper.
Might as well give that damn cat a hood and scythe.