My ears always perk up whenever there is an interesting story on the news involving pets. On occasion we hear stories of pets saving families’ lives in fires, a dog defending a victim of abuse, etc. Six years ago, I heard about a particular cat named Oscar living in an Alzheimer’s ward of a nursing home near the community where I grew up. What was special about Oscar was that despite his ornery personality, he had an uncanny ability to predict the impending death of a patient within hours of their passing, keeping vigil in their rooms and curling up with the patient until their last breath. Usually his presence in a room beyond a few minutes alerted the staff to start making phone calls; it was rare that he was wrong. The four-footed angel of death he was called. The furry grim reaper.
Alrighty then. Sounded interesting, but I was skeptical. Good report WJAR.
After hearing about Oscar, I didn’t have much reason to keep him in mind. I had moved out of state, didn’t have any relatives in a nursing home at the time, and honestly never considered the fact that our paths would actually cross.
I was chatting with my father one day when my grandmother came up in conversation; she is now 93 and suffers from dementia. Years had passed since I last saw her but I decided to tag along with my father for a visit. So off we went to Providence and arrived at Steere House.
We found her in the dining room after walking around the halls for a bit; I would have never recognized her. The woman I remembered who always had her red hair coiffed, nails done and full face of makeup was no more. The nails were still done and she still dressed well, but her mind was that of a child now - a child wondering when she would finally get to go home. It was a heartbreaking visit.
While sitting in the dining room together, a cat wandered through and found her way to my feet. She was a friendly little thing, and found a comfy place for a snooze inside my huge handbag I brought with me. I started putting two and two together.
“Dad, is this the cat that the news station did a report on awhile back? The one that detects death?”
“No, that’s Oscar. He’s around here somewhere but he’s not the friendliest cat. This one here is Maya.”
I remembered now. Oscar. At Steere House. With my grandmother.
When it was time to leave, we exited the lunchroom and I noticed a picture of Oscar on the wall, MAKING ROUNDS WITH OSCAR. Dr. Dosa had written it, another former skeptic who works at Steere House. I found myself looking into rooms on the way down the hall to see if I could catch a glimpse of the furry guy. No such luck, I guess it was no one’s time that day.
Then we turned into the lobby. My father spotted him lying next to the baseboards on the floor.
I looked down and Oscar looked up. He is a fluffy white and brown tabby – a pretty big guy. I figured he would bolt away but he got up and walked over to me when I bent down. I extended my hand, and after a cautious inspection with some sniffs he let me pet him for a few seconds and scratch his chin. So much for ornery, but he got his fill pretty quickly and did let me take a few pictures of his handsome mug before continuing on his way. Last count of cases predicted by Oscar I was aware of was in the 60s, and I am sure the numbers are higher now. Oscar seems to provide a sense of comfort to families when they cannot be with their loved ones in their final moments… he has even received his own plaque hanging in the halls for “Compassionate Hospice Care”. Pretty impressive for a kitty.
I have no idea how long my grandmother will be with us. Her physical health is stable despite the fact her mind is going, but I have seen the sad reality of Alzheimer’s and Dementia in my family before. It is not pretty. When it is her time, I wonder if Oscar will “make his rounds” and accompany her in her final moments.
For more information on Oscar and the Steere House in Providence, please visit http://steerehouse.org/