Oscar the cat entered a nursing home in Providence, Rhode Island as a kitten to become a therapy cat. Folks enjoyed watching him. He did not like anyone petting him. Everyone said Oscar did not like to be close to people – until the day they realized he took naps next to patients near death.
The dying rarely noticed Oscar on the bed. The staff always did. If a closed door kept him out, Oscar paced and fretted at the door. Nurses who spot Oscar sleeping with a patient called the family, “If you want to have a time to say good-bye, you need to come now.”
Staff doctor Dr. David Dosa wrote the book, ‘“Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat.‘ ” No one can explain why Oscar responds this way to the dying. Some speculate the biochemicals of the dying cells or the stillness of the body attract him. They do know he has predicted over 100 deaths.
Oscar is not the only cat that visits dying patients. My friend’s father passed recently. At the visitation, my friend mentioned the nursing home’s cat Bella. Like Oscar, when a woman reached out to pet Bella, she walked away, “She is not a people cat,” the woman observed.
“When I went on the weekends to see Dad, I never saw the cat in his room. When I took Dad out to the courtyard, she might be there. I saw her at the front playing or laying around. I never saw Bella in any room. Aides said Bella only goes into the room of one resident who feeds her.”
Recently, the family received the call, “Your Daddy may live another 12 to 72 hours.” Her sister and brother began packing to come to town. Her sister stayed overnight with Dad.
“Bella came into the room and hopped up on my sister’s lap. Through the night Bella was in and out of his room and the room across the hall with another Hospice patient.”
One night as they chatted on the phone, the sister laughed, “And here comes Bella down the hall.” Having read the Oscar book, the sister mentioned the similarities to the staff. “We have noticed that when people get close to dying, Bella comes in and settles into a nearby chair,” staff agreed.
Other cats that live at the nursing homes do not join either Bella or Oscar. They lack the hyper-sensitivity to the process of dying. One time nurses nudged Oscar to go to a dying patient. Oscar snubbed that patient and went to another person who died first.
“Bella never got in my dad’s bed. She went by Dad’s bed, looked up at it, jumped in my sister’s lap and sat. The entire time that Dad was going through the struggles of passing. Bella would come in during the night. When I talked with my sister she said, ‘Bella came in. She is here sleeping on my lap.’”
The sisters told their brother about Bella the cat. “A cat in a nursing home?” he was astonished. The brother arrived shortly before his father passed.
“Bella walked in right before my dad passed.” my friend said. As the siblings talked, Bella turned around in her chair, reached up and clawed at something near the wall. When Bella stopped he unusual behavior, they looked at dad.
“I think Dad has passed,” the sister said.
“Maybe Bella was reaching up to an angel….”
When the family returned to gather up their dad’s things, Bella walked in for a final visit. No reason except she is the cat who comes to visit during the passing of souls from this life to the next.