How do cats know? How does Oscar, the cat, know which patients in a Rhode Island nursing home will die?
He checks daily on the residents, sniffing around them. Most he passes as good for another day, but he will stop by certain patients, curl up next to them and not leave until they have died and he has seen them gently into the next world. He is so accurate that nurses call in the family when they see him curled up beside a patient.
What amazes me is not so much his diagnostic skills (he has had more than 25 accurate predictions), but his compassion. Oscar stays with the patient, nuzzling and purring, only leaving after they have drawn their last breath. He has saved several lonely souls from dying alone.
Yet, it doesn't surprise cat owners. You ask one. Cats are overlooked, sneered at by dog owners, because they don't bound up with bad breath and slavish devotion. With cats you have to earn their love,
We found Thea on Kijiji, free to a good home. We had always had dogs, but I knew with my back and living in a condo, we couldn't manage another. What about a cat? I so badly missed the companionship of an animal, but would a cat be as responsive?
I trolled kijiji idly, past chocolate box kittens. Then there was one: alert and enquiring – Thea. I was drawn to that little face. Being dog people, we had to learn to “speak cat.” She was brave, 6 weeks old, away from her siblings, she sniffed around, had a love affair with a shoe, found her box and went quietly to sleep. When I picked her up, there was a very tremulous purr. Reminded me of our 4 year-old daughter, singing If You are a Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands in a wobbly voice the day we left her with friends while we flew to Canada for Bill to find work.
As she had to be an indoor cat, we interacted with her constantly. We realized it wasn't a natural life, so tried hard to give her variety and attention. Given that in the wild she would be able to hunt and patrol freely, we learned her indoor schedule. Cats are very particular about routines.
Once introduced to a leash, she now fetches it each morning and mews at the door. She also meditates with Bill after lunch and nags him if he's late. He practices Heart Math, which means he is hooked to a sensor and uses his breath to bring his heart rhythm into coherence, which happens as soon as Thea settles on his knee.
Like Oscar, she knows how we are. She sat up all night with Bill when his heart failed and barely left him when he came back from Emergency. If either of us is upset or my pain is bad, she is there, an enquiring look on her face, before settling on a knee.
How does she know at a distance? She will sit out with us in the shared courtyard in front of our condo. Suddenly, she is gone, twelve feet away, rolling at the feet of a passing stranger, waving her fluffy pantaloons shamelessly in the air. But only at some people – and they always turn out to be cat lovers.
The reverse of our former Yorkie, Daisy, who sensed my mother did not like dogs and would always deficate on the guest room bed before she arrived on a visit.
She has a little pillow she thinks is a kitten. that she carries everywhere. When I was wrapping Christmas gifts in the basement, Thea fetched her “kitten,” wrapped it in tissue paper and sang to it.
I am in awe at her sixth sense, touched by her devotion, because, now I “speak cat,” I realize that I had to earn that trust.
New England Journal of Medicine – A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat