Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Cat Who Can Sense Impending Death

Wish I Could Learn From The Cat!

The scene is Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Rhode Island.

Steere Masthead

The third floor of the center houses the Dementia Unit. Doctors and nurses make their usual rounds, busy doing whatever it is that they do. It is a very normal scene, with the air filled with the aroma of medicines and the Spartan environs befitting a nursing center where Alzheimer's and Dementia patients in their late stages come with the hope to convalesce.

Except, that there is a cat which is making waves in the hospice. Not that this particular cat is the only pet prowling around in the building. The hospital boasts of Cadbury, an adorable bunny, Tilly, the noisy parakeet, and Maxine, the hospital's guard dog amongst the pets it looks after. What makes Oscar - the cat - special is his ability to sense death.

Very uncannily, and this has been vouched for by people who are now actually keeping a scientific track of this cat's movements, this feline curls up near the bedside of a patient who has less than two hours to go. It has come to such a stage, that when these people see Oscar do this for a patient, they pick up the phone to call up the patient's kith and kin, and ask them to come over, since "the end is near".

Oscar's prediction skills are more accurate than the entire skills of medicine and science and technology put together.

The cat generally stays aloof, and is not very friendly. He seems to be quite satisfied with the food served during the day at fixed hours. And all day long, he does his rounds, prowling and sniffing, prowling and sniffing.

How does he manage to sense impending death? Does he "see" "it" in the room? Does he "smell" the deathly scent in the patient? Does he "hear" the final, bidding-adieu, song or hymn coming from the patient? Do his feline hairs rise in a special way at some special vibrations around the patient, which hints at the last moment? Of course, he has not been observed "licking" anything, so this fifth sense is ruled out.

And, very importantly, why does he feel obliged to be by the deathbed? Is it some sort of protocol that he is following? A "courtesy-demands-that-you-be-near-to-the-dying-person" kind of obligation that binds us all together, irrespective of whether we are humans or animals? After sensing the death, he could have simply walked away, couldn't he? He wouldn't have owed anything to the dying patient or their relatives anything, would he have? Heck, nobody would have even bothered to look at him while they were moving around in the hospice!

Still, our Oscar feels obliged to be by the deathbed, after so accurately sensing coming death.

Both these aspects - that there is a special sensory function which tells him of death, and that he curls up next to the patient in their final moments - are intriguing.

I wonder what Oscar's behavior would be if he were shifted to a neonatal hospital. Would he predict the exact moment when a baby will be born in cases of natural labor? Or would he predict still-born cases / infant deaths? Is he a harbinger of good news also? Or is his expertise limited to gloom alone?

Dementor, Harry Potter movie

Ah. I wish I could hone my own skills too and bring them to Oscar's level.

Oscar on the rounds

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