First, Oscar’s regular purring presence at a patient’s bedside just hours before dying seemed a fluke. But over time his record became so spot-on that the staff learned they better quickly pick up the phone and call family members when Oscar cozies-up along side their patients. If prevented from entering the room of a dying patient, Oscar will doggedly claw at doors and walls, trying to get in. Twenty-five times in a row, Oscar predicted which patient would go next and when.
When Oscar sensed a patient was a death’s doorstep, he would quietly pad into the room and remain until the patient passed away. Dr. David Dosa, an attending physician at the Steere House who was first quite dubious about Oscar’s talent, described the cat’s unusual behavior in a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine:
Mrs. K. is resting peacefully in her bed, her breathing steady but shallow. … Oscar jumps onto her bed and sniffs the air. He … turns around twice before curling up beside Mrs. K.
A nurse walks into the room to check on her patient. She pauses to note Oscar’s presence. Concerned, she … grabs Mrs. K.’s chart off the medical-records rack and begins to make phone calls.
Within a half hour the family starts to arrive. … Oscar has not budged, instead purring and gently nuzzling Mrs. K.
A young grandson asks his mother, “What is the cat doing here?” The mother, fighting back tears, tells him, “He is here to help Grandma get to heaven.”
Thirty minutes later, Mrs. K. takes her last earthly breath. With this, Oscar sits up, looks around, then departs the room so quietly that the grieving family barely notices.
Dr. Dosa at first worried that people would be frightened by this furry grim reaper, especially after he published the first account of Oscar in 2007. Yet, quite the contrary, caretakers and family members found this unique cat a comforting presence at one of life’s most difficult moments — death. ”People actually were taking great comfort in this idea, that this animal was there and might be there when their loved ones eventually pass,” Dosa said. “He was there when they couldn’t be.”
To illustrate his point, Dr. Dosa notes that Oscar has been thanked in more than one newspaper eulogy. ”Maybe they’re seeing what they want to see,” he said, “but what they’re seeing is a comfort to them in a real difficult time in their lives.”