Tuesday, February 02, 2010

When Oscar Comes Calling, Shut the Door Quick!


For the last five years, Oscar the cat has been sniffing out death. Literally.
Dr. David Dosa, who published the news of Oscar's abilities in a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, said he never intended to make Oscar sound creepy or his arrival at a bedside to be viewed negatively. Dosa said he hopes his newly released book, "Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat " will put the cat in a more favorable light as well as providing a book to help people whose loved ones are terminally ill.

"After the New England Journal article you got the feeling that if Oscar is in your bed then you are dead, but you did not really see what is going on for these family members," said Dosa, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University. "I wanted to write a book that would go beyond Oscar's peculiarities, to tell why he is important to family members and caregivers who have been with him at the end of a life."

Dosa said Oscar's story is fascinating on many levels.
Oscar was adopted as a kitten from an animal shelter to be raised as a therapy cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, which cares for people with severe dementia and in the final stages of various illnesses.

When Oscar was about six months old the staff noticed that he would curl up to sleep with patients who were about to die.

So far he has accurately predicted about 50 deaths.

The Telegraph reports:
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 in another room. 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.
When death is near, Oscar nearly always appears at the last hour or so. Yet he shows no special interest in patients who are simply in poor shape, or even patients who may be dying but who still have a few days. A hop onto the bed, a fastidious lick of the paws, then a snuggle beside a nursing home patient with little time left. Oscar's purr, when keeping close company with the dying, is so intense it is almost a low rumble.
Dosa suggests Oscar’s unique ability could stem from an ability to detect ketones–distinctly odored biochemicals given off by dying cells. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds; after all, some dogs have been trained to sniff out cancer.
Dosa said his main interest was not to delve further into Oscar's abilities but to use Oscar as a vehicle to tell about terminal illness, which is his main area of work. where people go to die."

"The first time I met Oscar he bit me. We have warmed over the years. We have moved into a better place," said Dosa.

"I don't think Oscar is that unique, but he is in a unique environment. Animals are remarkable in their ability to see things we don't, be it the dog that sniffs out cancer or the fish that predicts earthquakes. Animals know when they are needed."

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/us_books_cat ; http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/oscar-cat-with-the-purr-of-death/2007/07/26/1185339167772.html

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