PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The scientist in Dr. David Dosa was skeptical when he first heard that Oscar, an aloof cat kept by a nursing home, regularly predicted patients' deaths by snuggling alongside them in their final hours.
Dosa's doubts eroded after he and his colleagues tallied about 50 correct calls made by Oscar over five years, a process he explains in a book released this week, "Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat." The feline's bizarre talent astounds Dosa, but he finds Oscar's real worth in his fierce insistence on being present when others turn away from life's most uncomfortable topic: death.
Dosa, 37, a geriatrician and professor at Brown University, works on the third floor of the Steere House, which treats patients with severe end-stage dementia.
The nursing home adopted Oscar, gray and brown with a white belly, in 2005 because its staff thinks pets make the Steere House more of a home. After a year, the staff noticed that Oscar would spend his days pacing from room to room. He sniffed and looked at the patients but rarely spent much time with anyone - except when they had just hours to live. The patients are generally too ill to notice his presence.
Dosa does not explain Oscar scientifically in his book, although he theorizes that the cat imitates the nurses who raised him or smells odors given off by dying cells, perhaps like some dogs scientists say can detect cancer using their sense of scent.
At its heart, Dosa's search is more about how people cope with death than Oscar's purported ability to predict it.
"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."- AP