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2009-03-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Oscar making his rounds.
Usually dogs get all the credit for being pet psychics. Supposedly some predict seizures, insulin shock, or heart attacks; others find malignancies. One nursing home cat named Oscar has got them all beat. He's known as "the kiss of death kitty", cuddling with at least 25 elderly residents, hours before they expire. Oscar's even been written up in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

The real Oscar was the inspiration for the March 16th "Here, Kitty" episode on TV's "House". Grumpy Dr. House determined to prove that simple science, not superstition, is behind the cat's sixth sense, refuses to believe his Russian Blue adversary could have special abilities. He drags the cat around in a back pack, and lets him loose in the coma ward to prove his point. If nothing else, the TV cat should get an Emmy for combating the scathing star 's penetrating stare and stunts.

Each "House" follows a formula. Every week about 6-7 minutes before the closing credits, actor Hugh Laurie has a diagnostic epiphany sparked by something peripheral he sees or someone says. When the omniscient doc spies the cat on his toasty lap top, he deduces his furry foe is not detecting demise but merely attracted to the warmth of feverish patients or heating pads. Purr-haps….purr-haps not.

 
Let's get back to the reality behind the TV tale. When Oscar's uncanny story first broke the summer of '07, the parallels were too upsetting for me. I learned about this exceptional cat while on my last pet therapy trip to my mother's nursing home, right before she passed away. While visiting another bedridden resident who adored my Afghan Hound, I saw the broadcast about Oscar, and hoped she and her roommate were not cognizant of the news on their TV. My mother hadn't been aware that we were there that day.

The July 26 '07 medical journal essay by Dr. David Dosa of Brown Univ., a geriatrician at a Providence nursing home begins this way: "Oscar the Cat awakens from his nap, opening a single eye to survey his kingdom. From atop the desk in the doctors' charting area, the cat peers down the two wings of the nursing home's advanced dementia unit. All quiet on the western and eastern fronts. Slowly, he rises and extravagantly stretches his 2-year-old frame, first backward and then forward. He sits up and considers his next move." Later the author goes on to describe how Oscar patrols the halls and visits residents' rooms. He sniffs the air and quietly leaves, if it isn't their time. If it is, he stays until they pass.

Since being adopted from a shelter as a kitten, white with tabby longhaired Oscar has lived at the Steere Housing Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, along with 5 other therapy cats that don't seem to have his prophetic power. Oscar isn't particularly friendly to the staff or ambulatory residents unless bribed with food, yet seems to become a "mush" when someone is terminal. It's not like he is consistently there but instead makes an appearance at the doorway waiting patiently to be let in. Then, he curls up purring besides dying patients staying their last few hours. Since the patients are suffering from end stage dementia, they should not be fearful of the significance of his vigil.

Although it is not unusual to witness death in this facility, Oscar's mysterious skills won over even medical skeptics because of his consistency and precision at pinpointing when. Oscar's presence, along with a worsening condition, has alerted nurses to call in next of kin to say their last good-byes. Most families and the staff welcome the comfort the cat brings. They take some solace from it. As Oscar's reputation grew, so did his recognition. Besides grateful relatives, he has a certificate of appreciation on the wall from the state's largest hospice organization.

Dr. House may be simplifying Oscar's talents as merely heat-seeking. One of Oscar's first cases involved a woman who had a blood clot in her leg. The leg was ice cold; Oscar wrapped his body around her leg until she died.

Experts, other than know-it-all Dr. House, are baffled by the source of Oscar's intuition and offer various explanations. The cat may be sensing final heat surges, subtle biochemical cues, or specific smells associated with dying, detectable only to a tuned-in feline. An animal behaviorist says Oscar might be picking up on the lack of movement in the bed. According to "Mail Online", a British website which also suggests the supernatural, the official witch in Salem, Massachusetts is sure Oscar is sensing brain waves. She says he's acting like a "familiar"- the name witches of long ago gave to their companion cats. In psychic alpha wave communication with the soon-to-be deceased, Oscar helps the soul pass over to the other world. He's not a bad omen, rather a messenger bringing serenity. Purrhaps….purr-haps not.

For Adoption: The poster pets this week at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon are 2 cats and a dog. "Buster" & "Phantom" in C-10 came in together. Both around 5, "Buster" is a magnificent sable & white longhair while "Phantom" is a classic tuxedo. Young "Laci" is a petite Hound mix in Cage 41. She's the size of a big Beagle.

More Cats: "Lynn"- gray tabby; "Bailey"- orange; "Prince"- mackerel tabby- all young, loving lap cats.

Dogs: female liver & blonde Setter mix- Cage 1; "Emma"-Rottweiler Cage 40; "Tiger Lily" - brindle Boxer mix Cage 25; "Sarge"-Pit mix Cage 21; brown & white Cocker Spaniel.

Last Hope Low Cost Vaccine Clinic: Sun. March 29 at Cozy Pet, Deer Park Ave. N. Babylon from 12 to 3. Prices at www. lasthopeanimalrescue.org, or call 669-2099.

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