Animals are amazing creatures. Science has taught us that animal senses can be quite different from our own. No matter how much we think we know about them, there are still some aspects of their lives that we don’t understand-and might not even know about. And while claims such as “dogs are colorblind” or “cats always land on their feet” are more myth than fact, animals are capable of some truly astonishing things. They might even be able to sense death.
In 2006, scientific research showed that some dogs can smell a chemical change that takes place on a cellular level in people with cancer-in short, dogs can detect the illness before many patients can. Other research has shown that some fish can sense an earthquake before it happens. These amazing claims may have seemed farfetched reports first surfaced, but scientific evidence later supported them.
A cat named Oscar made waves in the scientific community in 2007 when rumors began circulating that he could sense when someone was about to die. This claim (which began at Steere House Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Providence, RI where Oscar was a resident) was spearheaded by a surprising source-a skeptical doctor who disliked cats.
Oscar was one of 5 cats brought into Steere House to help make residents feel more at home. Considered a mostly unfriendly cat, Oscar spent most of his time hovering near his food or sleeping in his favorite hiding places. At some point though , the facility’s nurses began to note that Oscar seemed to develop an interest in some of the residents just before they died.
Word started getting around about Oscar’s ability and it remained little more than a curiosity until a nurse brought the issue to Dr. David Dosa’s attention. One of his patients was in the last stages of cancer when Oscar was sighted pressed up against the patient. To the staff’s eyes, Oscar seemed to be comforting the patient until the end.
Dr. Dosa dismissed the claim of a “grim reaper cat” and returned to his duties, but approximately an hour after the incident with the nurse he received a call announcing that the patient had passed away.
Further research revealed that similar situations had occurred at least half a dozen other times according to the staff. Discussions with the families of the patients indicated that Oscar had been a source of comfort and love to the dying. But It wasn’t until Oscar spent time with a resident who unexpectedly passed away that Dr. Dosa friend began to give the claim a closer look.
After months of observing Oscar’s behavior and looking for patterns in patient deaths, Dr. Dosa has not only published Oscar’s story in a prestigious medical journal, he’s also come to a powerful conclusion. Oscar could be reacting to chemical changes in the patient’s body, or perhaps the lack of movement. He could have some sense that we have not yet identified. But regardless of what causes Oscar’s unusual behavior, Dr. Dosa knows that is a valuable source of comfort and love to the many patients of Steere House…and he wouldn’t have it any other way.