About RTÉ Television
The Afternoon Show
The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

Super Cat!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Oscar is a cat you don't want to see coming in your door if you reside in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre - he can sense imminent death!

A CAT (Oscar) with an uncanny ability to detect when nursing home patients are about to die has proven itself in about 50 cases by curling up with them in their final hours, according to a new book.

Dr David Dosa a geriatrician, said five years of records showed that Oscar rarely made a mistake, sometimes proving medical staff wrong in their predictions over which patients were close to death.

The cat, now five and generally unsociable, was adopted as a kitten at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre improvidence Rhode Island , which specialises in caring for people with severe dementia.

Dr Dosa first publicised Oscar's gift in an article in the New England Journal Of Medicine in 2007. Since then, the cat has gone on to double the number of imminent deaths it has sensed.

The tortoiseshell and white cat spends its days pacing from room to room, rarely spending any time with patients, except those with just hours to live.

If kept outside the room of a dying patient, Oscar will scratch on the door trying to get in.
When nurses once placed the cat on the bed of a patient they thought close to death, Oscar "charged out" and went to sit beside someone else. The cat's judgment was better than that of the nurses -- the second patient died that evening, while the first lived for two more days.

Dr David Dosa has written a book on Oscar which has recently been published, called 'Making the Rounds with Oscar'.

Dr David Dosa

David Dosa MD, MPH is a practicing geriatrician and health services researcher at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. In July 2007, David garnered international attention for an essay on Oscar that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

After the story made headlines on morning television programs and newspapers around the world (not to mention People Magazine), David decided to write a book about his experiences with Oscar. That book, entitled Making Rounds with Oscar-The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat was written mostly on nights and weekends during the ensuing months.

David lives with his wife Dionne and their two children outside of Providence, Rhode Island. He is currently trying to convince his wife to buy a cat or a dog-- with significant assistance from his two kids. Unfortunately, like many of the characters in his book, David and his wife are also now part of the "Sandwich Generation"- a generation caught between raising children and caring for a parent with Alzheimer's Disease.

In his book 'Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat', Dr Dosa suggests that Oscar is able -- like dogs, which can reportedly "smell" cancer -- to detect chemical changes that accompany death. Far from recoiling from Oscar's presence, relatives and friends of patients have felt comforted and sometimes praised the cat in newspaper death notices and eulogies. "People were actually taking great comfort in this idea. He was there when they couldn't be," said Dr Dosa.

How old is Oscar?
Oscar is about 7 plus years.

Has he lived in the nursing home his entire life?
He has lived in the nursing home since for about 5 years - he came from a shelter and we have a number of other cats in the home as well.

What are the number/figures of imminent deaths that Oscar has sensed?
I would say that the numbers are over 50, maybe close to 60..

What does the cat do on a day to dad basis?
The cat generally has a few places in the home where he stays, for example, you might find him under one of the tables in the home. He generally does his rounds during the day in and out of different rooms within the unit that he is in.

What does Oscar do when he is with a person who is dying?
He stays in the room. He might curl up right beside the person, or maybe just stay near the window in their room. What he does do though, is that he stays in the room and does not leave that person until they die. He does of course go and use the kitty litter toilet, but then he goes back to that, that is what is unusual.

Like a dog that can smell cancer?
Yes, I know there have been some dogs that can smell cancer in people. And all I can say is that Oscar has some kind of perception and that he can sense things. I think that Oscar can smell things that maybe people can't.

What kind of comfort do the elderly people take form Oscar?
I think they take great comfort from Oscar, him just being there.

How close generally to death has a person been, when Oscar goes to visit them?
At the start, Oscar will go to the patient very early, maybe sometimes 4 or 5 hours before that person was close to death. He has been doing this for about 5 years, and in the last couple of years, he tends to go to the room for an earlier period of time before that person passes away. Maybe a couple of days.

What have you said to critics of this, maybe any other cat might do the same?
Well there are people like that out there that are cynical, but what I would say is that the more that it happens, the more the more one starts to believe it and what I can say is that we are seeing it happen in this home and we do believe it

Oscar is a tabby cat who resides on the third floor of the Steere House Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Adopted by the nursing home as a kitten, Oscar has lived his entire life on the 41-bed advanced dementia unit. Though much of his first year on the unit was nondescript, Oscar suddenly began making visits to residents on the third floor shortly before his first birthday.

His visits originally went unnoticed, but family members and staff began to realize that Oscar's appearances coincided with the deaths of terminal patients there. While the passing of some residents was not unexpected due to their advanced condition, Oscar's visits proved to coincide remarkably with a resident's final hours. Otherwise he was nowhere to be found. On several occasions over the next year, Oscar seemed to be the first "health care provider" on the floor to realize that a resident was about to die.

In time, staff at the nursing home began to rely on Oscar as an "early warning system," announcing to those present that it was time to notify family and increase hospice services for those close to death. For his service to his patients, a local Hospice organization even awarded Oscar with their annual "Hospice Champion" award. When Dr. Dosa's essay was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Oscar's story made international headlines. For several days, "Oscar the cat" was the most widely searched term on several web search engines.

These days, Oscar continues to patrol the halls of Steere House's third floor dementia unit. Though at times, he has been caught sleeping on the job, Oscar continues to hold vigils for departing patients--mostly to the delight of family members struggling to deal with the death of their loved ones. He continues to be mentioned routinely in obituaries and during funeral services.