If Oscar the cat wants to be your friend, you have the right to be concerned. The notoriously antisocial tabby wanders the halls of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, where he mostly keeps to himself.
The only people Oscar graces with his cuddly presence are those most in need of the intuitive kitty’s comfort and support: That is, residents who are facing their final days.
According to the Steere House website, “Oscar has demonstrated an ability to detect a patient’s impending death and … is able to provide a touch of comfort to the dying, elderly residents of Steere House’s Safe Haven Advanced Care unit and their families who are dealing with the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of end-stage dementia.”
That’s right: If Oscar curls up on your lap, there’s a good chance you’re going to die soon. It is said that the 10-year-old so-called “miracle cat” has accurately “predicted” as many as 100 deaths in the advanced-care dementia unit where he has resided since he was a kitten.
Nursing home staff sees the cat’s presence at a patient’s bedside as an almost certain harbinger of the grim reaper.
Oscar’s special gift has attracted so much attention that Dr. David Dosa, a researcher and physician at Brown University, wrote a New York Times bestselling book about the cat titled Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gifts of an Ordinary Cat. He also published an essay about the tenacious tabby in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, rocketing the cat to international stardom.
“His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families,” Dosa wrote in his report.
Dosa’s essay also details a time Oscar visited several patients who were ill and considered their situation before curling up next to a woman shortly before she took her last breaths. The cat’s uncanny ability to comfort those in need seems impossible — but the way Dosa describes it, even Oscar’s supernatural skill seems unmistakably feline. That is, Oscar is occasionally indifferent and cranky.
“In the distance, a resident approaches,” Dosa writes. “It is Mrs. P., who has been living on the dementia unit’s third floor for three years now. She has long forgotten her family, even though they visit her almost daily. Moderately disheveled after eating her lunch, half of which she now wears on her shirt, Mrs. P. is taking one of her many aimless strolls to nowhere. She glides toward Oscar, pushing her walker and muttering to herself with complete disregard for her surroundings. Perturbed, Oscar watches her carefully and, as she walks by, lets out a gentle hiss, a rattlesnake-like warning that says, ‘Leave me alone.’ She passes him without a glance and continues down the hallway. Oscar is relieved. It is not yet Mrs. P.’s time, and he wants nothing to do with her.”
Oscar is not the only therapy animal to have made the rounds at Steere House. Because the nursing home’s staff believes in “the therapeutic benefits of animal companionship,” it has also been home to parakeets, a floppy-eared bunny, and several dogs — but it’s safe to say Oscar’s story is the most intriguing.
For his efforts, Oscar has received a Hospice Champion award from a local organization, and he is frequently mentioned in obituaries and during funeral services. He’s also remained the subject of much curiosity. After Dosa’s article was published, “Oscar the cat” was one of the top searches on Google for several weeks.
In 2013, Oscar nearly died himself when he suffered a severe allergic reaction that caused his heart to stop for several seconds. Fortunately, his brief foray to the other side doesn’t seem to have affected his supernatural abilities. As he ventures into his senior years, Oscar still finds the time to comfort ailing patients at the nursing home — even though he’s occasionally caught napping on the job.
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of head-butts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.