Can This Cat Smell Death?
"What's truly fascinating is that he really is such a non-social cat," says Dr. David Dosa, who wrote the Journal article. "He really wants to be left alone. In the piece, I talk about him giving this sort of hiss when a patient comes by." Dosa says he has received reports of similar behaviors in cats and dogs around the world. He believes—as does Dr. Joan Teno, a staff physician at Steere House who considers the cat "part of the culture here"—Oscar's sense of smell may have something to do with his actions, but he also says the cat may be mimicking the nursing home's caregivers, who look after the dying with a ritual that includes low lights, soft music and aromatherapy.
Oscar has not replaced nursing assessments, but staff members so respect his predictive abilities that they call to prepare family members when he shows signs of affection toward a patient. Some family members say they appreciate Oscar's special attention. Jack McCullough believes that his mother, Marion, would have been happy to know that Oscar was with her at the end. "Oscar's comforting purr was a welcome addition to the already peaceful scene."