As reported today in the Boston Globe, Oscar the cat comforts the dying at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Oscar provides more than your usual dose of animal therapy: he curls up on the beds of those who are about to die, often before anyone else is aware that a particular patient's remaining hours are few. Oscar purrs deeply, providing comfort and beauty to a life's close.
"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. Animal behavior experts have no explanation for Oscar's ability to sense imminent death. They theorize that he might detect some subtle change in metabolism—felines are as acutely sensitive to smells as dogs—but are stumped as to why he would show interest. 'It may just come down to empathy,' said Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, a leading behaviorist and professor at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, when told about Oscar's eerie knack."
Dr. David Dosa wrote about Oscar in an essay published today in the New England Journal of Medicine: "A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat."