Oscar, the Cat Who Senses Death, Is the Star of New Book
The star of the new book Making Rounds with Oscar, which hit shelves Tuesday, the fluffy tabby has been a sensation since 2007, when Dr. David Dosa, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, penned an essay about his abilities in the New England Journal of Medicine. The feline walks into patient's rooms a few hours before death and sits with them as they die, purring on their beds as they quietly slip away.
"He usually wanders in, sniffs the air, kind of gets the lay of the land, then decides whether he's going to stay or not," Dosa explains to PEOPLEPets.com. "If he stays he'll jump on a windowsill near a patient's bed or sometimes he'll sit on the bed with the patient."
But Dosa, who consulted dozens of caregivers for the book, says Oscar isn't necessarily comforting the person who's passing on; it's the person who's sitting with their loved one as they leave this world that he's helping. "I was actually quite pleasantly surprised that all of the caregivers really found tremendous benefit from having Oscar around," he says. "Some cases the caregiver sort of thought he was there for them."
Oscar, a shelter cat who is 5 years old, is one of six cats that live at the New England nursing home. Dosa says the animal has been present for more than 50 deaths and is very focused on his "job" at the ward, which houses 40 patients. "He will leave the room to use the litter box, eat a little bit, but then he's right back with that patient," he says. After saying goodbye, "it's almost as if he's tired a couple days afterwards. I think he takes his job seriously."
Dosa hopes that the book shows the importance of animal therapy. "Nobody wants to put Mom or Dad in a nursing home," he says. "But if it's a little closer to home [with animals], then I think that's important for caregivers."
Always more of a dog person, Dosa was skeptical of Oscar's abilities at first, and his search for concrete evidence of the cat's skill is chronicled in the book. But an incident with two patients a few years ago made him realize that something special was, in fact, afoot. "I remember very vividly there was a patient who we all thought was going to die first and Oscar was nowhere to be found. By this point he'd had a little bit of a streak going on and we were all very worried that streak was going to end," Dosa recalls. So, one of the aides went looking for Oscar, but found him sitting on the bed of another patient.
"The aide picked up Oscar and said, 'You're in the wrong place, buddy, let's go down the hall.' So she grabbed this very angry cat down the hallway and as soon as we put him on the bed Oscar sprinted out of the room and raced right back down the hallway to that first room," Dosa says.
Oscar was right. The patient he chose to sit with died first, unexpectedly. "The patient we all thought was going to die first lived for another couple of days, and about four hours before that patient died Oscar was in the room," he says. "That sort of sealed the deal for me in terms of understanding that this animal is doing something quite unique."
In the past few years that Dosa has spent talking about the feline, he's grown very fond of him. "The other day he let me pick him up which is something he never would have done two years ago," he says. "I think I've obviously become more of a cat person as the process has gone on. He's a remarkable animal, it's easy to like him. Hopefully he'll be doing what he does for many years."
Would your pet make the perfect therapy or service animal? Contact the Delta Society for more information.
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