Oscar the Death Cat

In the good ol' days we would have burned Oscar as a witch...now we write him up for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Today's Globe has a story on Oscar the Death Cat entitled "With a Purr, Death Comes on Little Cat Feet." He's a cat who comes and snuggles up with patients in an advanced care unit in Rhode Island who are about to die. And only when they are about to die. Some highlights:

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.

In any event, when Oscar settles beside a patient on the bed, caregivers take it as sign that family members should be summoned immediately to bid their loved one farewell.

"Oscar is a normal cat with an extra-normal sense for death," [Dr. Joan Teno] said. "He is drawn to death. Either he wants to give comfort. Or he is just attracted to all the quiet activity that surrounds a patient close to dying.

Oscar makes regular "inspection" rounds of the unit, sauntering in and out of patient rooms -- as if checking on the condition of the occupants. But he never joins them for a snooze.


"He only shows great interest in individuals when they are about to die," said [Dr. David] Dosa.

But what's most interesting about the article is the way in which the writer doesn't seem to know what tone to take with the subject. It reads a little more like an Onion article than an actual newspaper story precisely because the tone is so cutesy -- as if a story about a little death cat wandering around your hospital and crawling into bed with you when you're about to die (to steal your soul?) were in the same genre as a puppy and a duckling who have become fast friends or a dog who knows when the train is going to pass by every day...


Dan said...

I was just about to e-mail this story to you. I want to add that I am not at all surprised that this is going on in Rhode Island. In fact, it makes perfect sense. I still think the cat is a witch, btw.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you guys take it like this:

This feline, being aware of the departure of a soul from the temple (body) stays by the body and helps the soul to transit from one realm to other, and also being an animal, not given to th extensive knowledge and vocabulary capabilities of homo sapience, depends only on spiritual capabilities to meet the end.


Kaz said...

isnt it folkore belief, that cats travel between the realms anyways? so, this cat helps the soul move on, and comforts the person, while the person is letting his/her soul go..i shall be so lucky to have a cat lay by me in my final hour.

Anonymous said...

The feline is simply a Life transisonalist,To help all the souls it comes in contact with to ease their journey into the next life!!

Anonymous said...

i think its neat that a cat has the sences to comfort a dying soul, they say cats have 9 lives, maybe it dont understand that a human just has one! i hope when its my time to go theres someone by me so im not alone.

Dan said...

Really? Cat's are life transitionalists? Really? I still think that cat is a witch.

Anonymous said...

I saw this too. Fascinating.