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Oscar the Cat: Grim Reaper or Angel of Mercy?

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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.”

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cancer, Cats, Feline Muse, Pets, ,

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Cherise Udell

Cherise Udell is a mom, clean air advocate, anthropologist and feline aficionado with the nomadic habit of taking spontaneous sojourns to unusual destinations. Before her adventures in motherhood, she was an intrepid Amazon jungle guide equipped with a pair of sturdy wellingtons and a 24-inch machete, as well as a volunteer at a rainforest animal rescue center.


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2:29AM PDT on Apr 25, 2015


3:56PM PDT on Apr 24, 2015

I'm sure that having a warm fuzzy body near you as you make your transition can be nothing BUT comforting, and I'm glad the families seem to feel the same way.

12:35AM PST on Feb 27, 2013

Amazing. Animals are simply amazing gifts

3:26PM PST on Feb 25, 2013

I´ve heard about such a cat before, don´t know it was Oscar or not. What ever he is, I hope, no one beliefes, the presence of a cat could cause a death.

7:57PM PST on Feb 23, 2013

I think this is a wonderful story, and I am glad most people see Oscar as a little furry blessing. Seriously, if he was trying to snuff people, he could just sit on their face with his fuzzy butt! (Sorry!)

3:17PM PST on Feb 23, 2013

You believe what you want to believe but if you cannot see that this is a little Angel of mercy, I fear for you in your last moments.

It is easier to explain everything as common science instead of taking it as a blessing of the heart.

But blessings of the heart are easy to adapt to, you just have to open yours!

If more humans took the time to look around, feel the changes and comfort those who are suffering or dying, the world would be a much better place!

At least some of us are opening their eyes and heart, there is hope yet!

5:15PM PST on Feb 5, 2013

I heard about this cat. no matter what he senses, temperature, chemical or carbon dioxide changes, he gives comfort when people need it most. who cares the mechanism, except that it cannot be easily repeated.

6:41AM PST on Jan 31, 2013

Beautiful kitty, thanks for this article..

8:33AM PST on Jan 21, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

2:10PM PDT on Jun 15, 2012

Oscar, like any other animal, is an animal with intelligence, maybe it was the warmth of the bodies it cuddled until the patient passed away, but I bet you if the patient was still here today, or if they could talk from the grave, they would tell you, that warmth of love caressed me, helped me to remain calm and it was a peaceful and loving touch. Animals are truly our angels and they deserve all the wonderful toys, hugs and kisses in life.

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