Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cats sense death

This story is a few years old, but no less fascinating. I remember hearing about it on the news several years ago, probably around the time the linked CBS news article was published. But, I came across Oscar the cat's incredible story in a recent Smithsonian magazine article and it rekindled my original astonishment.

Oscar is an orphaned cat that now resides at a Rhode Island nursing home, along with many dementia patients. Somehow, Oscar knows when patients are approaching death. In those final hours, he will wander into the patient's room, jump into their bed and keep watch. Shortly after the patient has passed, Oscar makes his exit.

What fascinates me about this story, is this scientifically unexplained bond between human and animal. Some unknown signal, potentially an undiscovered chemical pheromone, alerts Oscar to the patient's impending death. While it is incredible that Oscar signals the doctors to notify the patient's next of kin, this isn't the most remarkable part of the story. I think it's even more amazing that Oscar seems to give the dying person company in their final moments. It really makes you wonder how much more animals understand about the world that escapes our notice.

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