January 01, 2008

weirdest news stories of year 2007 - a pet of the last hours

let's talk in this 4th part on the weirdest 2007 events about the cat oscar.

the third-floor dementia unit at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, USA; the unit treats people with different illnesses, most of them are in the end stage & generally unaware of their surroundings. Steere House bills itself as a "pet friendly" facility; a few pets reside at the facility, providing comfort to the patients. among the animals there's Oscar the cat, Oscar makes his own rounds over the nursing home visiting different rooms & patients, but more bizarrely, the cat choose certain patients to stay with laying in their beds & those would generally die within two to four hours.

there were more than twenty-five cases in which Oscar predicted death & slept with the condemned persons; Oscar will stay by the patient until he or she takes their last breath, after which he will depart the room quietly. the accuracy of the cat led the staff to institute an unusual protocol: once he is discovered sleeping with a patient, staff will call family members to notify them of the patient's expected impending death. there are occasions when he is removed from the room at the family's request, but he is known to pace back and forth in front of the door and meow in protest.

Oscar has won an award for his compassion in being near patients in their final hours of life, many of whom would otherwise have died alone; the award is featured as a plaque mounted on a unit's wall. On it is engraved a commendation from a local hospice agency: "For his compassionate hospice care, this plaque is awarded to Oscar the Cat.".

there is no certainty on a scientific explanation to Oscar's behavior, Dr. Joan Teno & Dr. David Dosa, - affiliated with Alpert Medical School of Brown University - agree that the explanation could be specific odors resulting from certain chemicals released when someone is dying, & the cat is able to smell them; Some animal behavior experts approve this theory, adding that cats have a superb sense of smell & can certainly detect illness.

Dr. Daniel Estep, a certified applied animal behaviorist in Littleton, Colorado, however suggests that the explanation could be - instead of smell or sounds - the lack of movement of the persons who are about to die, the cat would be picking up on the fact that the person on the bed is very quiet.

also in not certain whether Oscar abilities are inborn or the result of learned behavior from living nearly his entire life in an end-stage medical facility, one of the supporters of the "smell" theory, Dr. Jill Goldman - a certified applied animal behaviorist in Laguna Beach, California - says that keeping a dying patient company maybe learned behavior: "There has been ample opportunity for him to make an association between 'that' smell [and death]".
"Making his way back up the hallway, Oscar arrives at Room 313. The door is open, and he proceeds inside. Mrs. K. is resting peacefully in her bed, her breathing steady but shallow. She is surrounded by photographs of her grandchildren and one from her wedding day. Despite these keepsakes, she is alone. Oscar jumps onto her bed and ... sniffs the air. He pauses to consider the situation, and then turns around twice before curling up beside Mrs. K.

One hour passes. Oscar waits. A nurse walks into the room to check on her patient. She pauses to note Oscar's presence. Concerned, she hurriedly leaves the room and returns to her desk. She grabs Mrs. K.'s chart off the medical-records rack and begins to make phone calls.

Within a half hour the family starts to arrive. Chairs are brought into the room, where the relatives begin their vigil. The priest is called to deliver last rites. And still, Oscar has not budged, instead purring and gently nuzzling Mrs. K. A young grandson asks his mother, "What is the cat doing here?" The mother, fighting back tears, tells him, "He is here to help Grandma get to heaven." Thirty minutes later, Mrs. K. takes her last earthly breath. With this, Oscar sits up, looks around, then departs the room so quietly that the grieving family barely notices."
David M. Dosa, M.D., M.P.H. - A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat

end of the fourth part.