Oscar the cat ‘smells’ death

When Oscar the cat curls up next to an elderly resident at Steere House nursing home in the US, it usually means one thing. Nicknamed the “cat of death”, the ordinary-looking tabby has extraordinary abilities and doctors believe he has predicted the passing of more than 50 patients. And now the five-year-old moggy has captured…

When Oscar the cat curls up next to an elderly resident at Steere House nursing home in the US, it usually means one thing.
Nicknamed the “cat of death”, the ordinary-looking tabby has extraordinary abilities and doctors believe he has predicted the passing of more than 50 patients.
And now the five-year-old moggy has captured the attention of film chiefs in Hollywood.
When Oscar sits beside a resident at the nursing home in Rhode Island, New England, doctors know they must act.
The patient’s family is called to say goodbye and sometimes a priest gives the last rites.
Oscar is thought to be able to detect the time at which a patient will pass away to within 24 hours.
It’s a highly unusual skill – and all the more so because he is a cat.
Oscar first came to public attention after an article in the New England Journal of Medicine four years ago, by which time he had predicted 20 deaths.
Dr David Dosa has watched Oscar doing his rounds on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre for more than five years.
And he has just written a book about Oscar’s special powers which has now been adapted for a Hollywood film.
Dr Dosa said: “I’m a physician and the third floor here is the last stop for many patients with advanced dementia.
“I’m generally the last doctor they will ever have.
“When I first met Oscar in 2005, he would stare out the window all day. But then he began calling on his fellow third-floor residents. His new behaviour got everyone’s attention.”
Dr Dosa claims Oscar has now successfully predicted the deaths of more than 50 patients.
He said: “This cat really seems to know when people are about to die.
“At first we were all sceptical but we’ve had plenty of opportunities to witness the phenomenon.”
The first signs usually come within the 24 hours before a patient dies, when Oscar leaves his favourite spots under a doctor’s desk or in an empty room and curls up next to an elderly resident. If they are not ready to die, Oscar leaves. Dr Dosa thinks Oscar’s unerring ability has something to do with his acute sense of smell.
He said: “As cells die, carbohydrates are degraded to many different oxygenated compounds including various ketones – chemical mixtures with a fragrant aroma.
“Could it be Oscar smells an elevated level of a chemical compound released prior to death?”
One of the cases Dr Dosa discusses in his book is that of resident Ruth Rubenstein, who was in her eighties. Oscar had been following a nurse on her rounds, but when they arrived at Ruth’s room he refused to leave the elderly lady’s bedside.
Dr Dosa said: “Oscar leaped on to the bed. He gazed at his patient.
“He circled once, twice – preparing a place to curl up next to her.”
Mary Miranda, a day nurse at the home, assessed the patient but medically there was nothing that could be done.
Oscar did not leave Ruth until she died – later the same day. Oscar has never got a prediction wrong but Dr Dosa admits his bizarre gift is not always welcome.
He said: “Oscar’s behaviour does frighten people. Not the patients – they find it a comfort – but the families can be upset.”
He added: “It is the nurses’ job to provide care and it is Oscar’s job to provide the critical companionship during the final hours.
“He is as much a comfort to families as he is to the patient – though in some cases he is the only family the patient has left.”
Many elderly residents at the home suffer from dementia and are probably not aware of the significance of Oscar’s visit.
But Dr Dosa said: “Having Oscar around always seems to bring a last smile to their face before they pass on.” – The Sun.

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