O is for Oscar the cat

Oscar the cat’s sense of smell may be just one explanation.

oscarthecat Oscar the cat lives in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. He is, by all accounts, “notoriously anti-social.”

That is, until, he cuddles up with residents in their final dying days. “After about six months, the staff noticed that Oscar, just like the doctors and nurses, would make his own rounds. Oscar would sniff and observe patients, then curl up to sleep with certain ones. The patients he would sleep with often died within several hours of his arrival.”

The story was even written up in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine back in 2007, A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat by David M. Dosa, M.D., M.P.H. Dr. Dosa believes that Oscar “might be picking up on specific odors surrounding death.”

Some animal behavior experts say the explanation about Oscar sensing a smell associated with dying is a plausible one. “I suspect he is smelling some chemical released just before dying,” says Margie Scherk, a veterinarian in Vancouver, British Columbia and president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners…

“And cats can certainly detect illness.” Dr. Jill Goldman, a certified applied animal behaviorist in Laguna Beach, California says that “Cats have a superb sense of smell,” adding that keeping a dying patient company may also be learned behavior. “There has been ample opportunity for him to make an association between ‘that’ smell [and death]”…

The sense of smell may, however, be just one explanation. Dr. Daniel Estep, a certified applied animal behaviorist in Littleton, Colorado suggests that “One of the things that happens with people who are dying is that they are not moving around much. Maybe the cat is picking up on the fact that the person on the bed is very quiet. It may not be smell or sounds, but just the lack of movement.”

The story of Oscar the cat was not without controversy, as in this review of Dr. Dosa’s 2010 book, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat would indicate. “The NEJM piece was an essay and in no sense a scientific article, which raises questions about why it was published. If we expected the book to provide something resembling scientific evidence, we are again disappointed.”

In any case, Oscar was still at work, as of this March 2015 Redbook article. Here’s a short video, and Oscar’s Facebook page.

ABC Wednesday – Round 18

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

19 thoughts on “O is for Oscar the cat”

  1. Hi Roger, I know all about Oscar there was a programme about him on TV and Cat’s ESP and I firmly believe they have it. When i had the bad fall 18 months ago AND HAD TO HAVE BED REST FOR NEARLY 3 WEEKS Chloe my cat lay on the bed all that time only leaving it to eat and go to the toilet. When i had to get out of bed to go to the bathroom she escorted me as i took every painful step.

    Best wishes Di.
    ABCW team.

  2. There are a (growing thankfully) amount of voices raising here in The Netherlands to allow residents of komes for the sick / eldery to keep / have their pets near to them

    It does so much good, more than mecidins can do… so i embrase homes who allow it.

    Wonderful post Roger!!

  3. How very interesting. When my mom was dying a dog was brought in to her floor at the hospital. The dog went straight to my dad instead of my mom though because I’m sure my dad was in more need of comfort than my dying mother who was ready to go…

  4. I wish more nursing homes would allow people to have pets or at least one for the facility like Oscar. Pets can bring so much comfort and joy to people. Thanks for sharing, my friend!

  5. I have read other stories similar to the one of Oscar. Really why does it matter why this happens? I think the comfort Oscar brings someone when they ar no longer mobile is proof enough of having him there.

  6. “Oma, are you a catperson?”my granddaughter asked. I answered affirmative. She said:”So am I!” She was very sad when one of my daughter’s cats died.I sent her a book called “The Mousehole Cat”.It’s about a cat that saved the whole town of Mousehole from starvation.
    This story of yours is lovely and amazing.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  7. Fascinating post about Oscar the cat and his behavior ~ I do think that we don’t give animals the credit they deserve ~ I am glad to see your post ~ thanks,

    Happy Week to you ~ ^_^

  8. Don’t doubt that animals pick up on near-death, since several of their senses are much sharper than that of human beings. In my internship I worked for half a year in Hospice, and there are distinct certain behaviors these people show. Interesting post, Roger!

  9. From experience I do think that animals have a certain empathy for people who are ill and cuddle close to comfort.

  10. Such a wonderful post! Some of my friends too feel that their pets sense their tension before the closer humans…

  11. Fascinating, when my elderly mom was in rehab there were a couple that would visit her. Wish I could have a cat around, I’m severely allergic.

  12. Oscar the Cat comforted a lot of souls, no doubt. While the Mama was dying, Molly the Cat gave her extra purrs, for which I am very grateful.

  13. Informative post. I had heard about Oscar the cat but didn’t bother to find out details. This one was helpful, so thank you!

  14. When I lived in California a couple I knew had a cat that predicted earth tremors by his behavior, which was to huddle in the middle of the living room and close his eyes. When the cat jumped up and was his normal boisterous self we knew that was the last aftershock. There is no known reason how cats or any other kind of animal can predict earthquakes but I know what I saw. Someday the science will catch up with reality.

  15. I am sure animals have a sixth sense and the ability to see more than we do. Animals have such an ability to love. Thanks for sharing Oscar’s story.

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