Oscar the Cat and Other Incredible Therapy Animals

Oscar is a cat who was adopted as a kitten from an animal hospital. Sounds pretty typical, huh? Well, when it comes to cats, Oscar is anything BUT typical.

What makes Oscar so extraordinary is that he is a cat with a supernatural ability to feel when people are about to die. In over 50 documented cases, Oscar, who lives in a nursing home, has curled up beside patients in their final hours, seeing them through to the ‘other side’.

Ever since he was adopted, Oscar was raised as a therapy cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The Center cares for people with severe dementia and in the final stages of various illnesses. When Oscar was about six months old, the staff noticed that he would curl up to sleep with patients who were about to die. Oscar, was portrayed as a furry grim reaper or four-legged angel of death.

Oscar’s unique story was revealed by Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor at Brown University, who claims Oscar’s predictions have rarely been wrong in the past six years. Dr. Dosa broke the news of Oscar’s abilities in a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007. He also wrote the book, “Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat,” to help people whose loved ones are terminally ill.
The book describes Oscar’s daily routine, how he spends his time pacing from room to room at the nursing home, rarely spending time with patients who have still got a fighting chance of survival. Instead, he picks out certain patients and cuddles up next to them. These are often the ones who will pass away in a short time. If kept outside the room of a dying patient, he will scratch at the door, trying to get in.

How Does This Happen?

Oscar has accurately sensed numerous deaths, convincing Dr. Dosa and staff at the nursing home that it wasn’t just a series of coincidences. In fact, during one instance, the staff was convinced of the imminent death of one patient but Oscar refused to sit with that person, choosing instead to be on the bed of another patient down the hallway. Oscar proved to be right. The person he sat with died first, taking staff on the ward by surprise.
Dr. Dosa doesn’t think Oscar is that extraordinary; however, he believes he is in a unique environment. This is how he explains Oscar’s unique abilities:

• Dr. Dosa said there is no scientific evidence to explain Oscar’s abilities, but he thinks the cat might be responding to a pheromone or smell that humans simply don’t recognize.
• And according to animal behaviorist Dr. Daniel Estep, Oscar may only be recognizing the patients’ lack of movement and interpreting it as illness, as cats can often sense when their owners are sick.

To this day, Oscar remains unchanged by the attention, spending most of his days staring out of a window, although he has become a bit friendlier.

Other Amazing Animals

There is no question that Oscar is amazing! Dr. Dosa believes that animals are remarkable in their ability to see things we don’t, be it the dog that sniffs out cancer or the fish that predicts earthquakes. Here are some other amazing therapy animals that help seniors, veterans, and those with special needs.

Nala the Poodle, Nursing Home Therapy Dog

Nala may be little, but this once-rejected dog has proven that her heart is huge. The tiny 5-year-old toy poodle comes to work at a St. Paul, Minnesota nursing home every day with her human, Doug Dawson. He’s a medications assistant at a senior housing facility. But as soon as they arrive in the morning, the little dog heads off on her own. While Dawson does his work, Nala does hers – going room to room in the care center, visiting residents and hopping up on beds and into laps to offer kisses. Nala even knows how to ride the elevators all by herself.

In Dawson’s care, Nala has thrived. And she’s become a popular fixture at the nursing home, often seeking out the sickest residents to offer them comfort. “She’s here for a purpose, I believe,” said Dawson.
Similar to Oscar, Nala even sits with residents on their deathbeds – the comfort she offers is its own kind of medicine. “She’s an angel,” said one of the residents at the nursing home, “I love her and she loves me.”

Lexy the German Shepherd Therapy Dog

With the rank of “lieutenant colonel,” Lexy is Fort Bragg’s only therapy dog. She calms soldiers that suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, and helps to further the cause of pet-supported therapy for soldiers dealing with post-war stress and other trauma. She also often enables soldiers to overcome any stigma about seeking treatment.

Buttercup the Therapy Pig

Buttercup, an adorable, 70-pound miniature Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, has a talent for working with special-needs kids. Her partner is speech pathologist, Lois Brady, and they spend their time visiting San Francisco schools. Buttercup is super calm and her easy-going manner makes her a huge hit with kids who might otherwise be afraid. She helps autistic children improve their social skills, and one severely autistic boy even spoke to his classmates for the first time after stroking Buttercup!

Elsa the Pit Bull Therapy Pup

Elsa’s young life was marked by abuse and neglect, and at one-year-old, she suffered an embolism that left her back legs barely functional. Eventually, she came into the care of Kelly Dann, who got her into physical therapy and registered her for a pet visitation program. Now, Elsa visits long-term care patients as well as those suffering from spinal cord injuries. She can move a bit on her own, but most of the time, she’s fitted with a special cart.

Therapy Animals Support Those in Need

Scientists believe it’s possible that the comfort of a therapy animal, such as those described, may actually help some patients to heal, and animals have been known to support people struggling with illnesses from cancer to addiction. All kinds of animals have been known to sense when their humans and others need some support, and are there to assist!

Don’t Forget about the Pet

Do you have a pet who is a member of your family? Many of us who think of our pets as family members want to ensure that they are cared for after we become incapable of doing so. One way to fulfill this responsibility is to set up a pet trust, or a legally sanctioned arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of your pet(s) in the event of your disability or death. For more details, read the Pet Trust FAQ on our website.

Please call us to make an appointment for a consultation. If you come to the Fairfax office, be sure to visit with all of the therapy animals who live here, including Angel and Bebe (our cats), Ribbit (our African Dwarf Frog), and Magic (our bunny). And be sure to follow our Critter Corner column that appears most Fridays in our weekly Ask the Expert newsletter.

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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