Oscar was adopted as a kitten from an animal shelter and grew up in the third-floor end-stage dementia unit at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The 41-bed unit treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses, most of whom are in the end stage of life and are generally unaware of their surroundings. Oscar was one of six cats adopted by Steere House, which bills itself as a “pet friendly” facility.
After about six months, the staff noticed that Oscar, just like the doctors and nurses, would make his own rounds. Oscar would sniff and observe patients, then curl up to sleep with certain ones. The patients he would sleep with often died within several hours of his arrival. One of the first cases involved a patient who had a blood clot in her leg that was ice cold at the time. Oscar wrapped his body around her leg and stayed until the woman died.In another instance, the doctor had made a determination of impending death based on the patient’s condition, while Oscar simply walked away, causing the doctor to believe that Oscar’s streak (12 at the time) had ended. However, it would be later discovered that the doctor’s prognosis was simply 10 hours too early: Oscar later visited the patient, who died two hours later.
Oscar’s accuracy led the staff to institute a new and 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.
Most of the time the patient’s family has no issue with Oscar being present at the time of death. On those occasions when he is removed from the room at the family’s request, he is known to pace back and forth in front of the door and meow in protest. When present, Oscar will stay by the patient until they die, then after death will quietly leave the room.
i find this very interesting as this behavior seems common in many cats that reside in mental and nursing homes. Often sharing the bed of the soon to be deceased. In the ancient world cats were revered by many cultures, most famously Ancient Egypt, as guardians of the underworld, keepers of the gate of death, and sometimes even harbingers of death itself. This makes me wonder whether this behavior was observed during ancient times as well and perhaps prompted this belief and many practices surrounding it.