Oscar, the cat who can predict when nursing home patients die, has received quite a bit of press over the last few years. Oscar, one of several resident cats at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island, seems to instinctively know when one of the patients at the facility is getting ready to die. After over fifty correct calls by Oscar, Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, began to investigate this phenomenon and, in 2007, published an article about it in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Making Rounds with Oscar – The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat is the result of Dosa’s interviews with family members and of patients and staff members at Steere House. Dosa, who admits that he doesn’t know much about cats, and who is initially skeptical about Oscar’s abilities, hears a common thread in all the interviews: over and over, patients and staff members tell Dosa how much Oscar’s presence has meant to them and their families during their time at the nursing facility. Oscar provides comfort and quiet, gentle support when nothing or noone else can.
This cat’s extraordinary talents will come as no surprise to cat lovers, nor will they question Oscar’s abilities. He truly is a remarkable cat, and he, and the other cats who live at the nursing home, clearly demonstrate how having cats at a nursing home can have a wonderfully calming and beneficial effect on the patients, staff and visitors.
Sadly, the title of the book is a bit misleading. If you were expecting to learn more about Oscar’s extraordinary abilities and how he knows when someone is about to die, you will be disappointed. The majority of this book is devoted to dementia and Alzheimer’s, and the devastating effect these diseases have not only on the patient who is suffering from them, but also on the patient’s family members and caregivers. As such, the book surely is a wonderful resource for families who are dealing with this heartbreaking disease in a loved one, but it will leave cat lovers feel a little cheated.
I really wanted to like this book. I love the idea of a nursing home with resident cats. There have been numerous accounts of how patients who stopped responding to and recognizing loved ones will still respond to animals. This has been written about exceptionally well by Jon Katz in his book Izzy and Lenore about Izzy, his hospice trained dog. Dosa, too, acknowledges that he believes that animals are a way for these patients to still connect, but, in my opinion, falls short of exploring the premise more deeply.
This is, perhaps not surprisingly, given Dosa’s medical specialty, primarily a book about dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and it addresses those topics well and in great depth. However, Oscar, the star of the book and its title, an exceptional cat with the special ability to not only predict death, but to comfort a dying patient through his or her final moments, does not get the attention he deserves. I had hoped that the book would take a look at a possible scientific explanation behind Oscar’s abilities, and perhaps, also address the spiritual dimension of why this gifted cat does what he does. This is a good book, full of compassion, caring and hope, but it left me wanting more.
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