Oscar was adopted as a kitten from an animal shelter and grew up on the end-stage dementia unit at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The nursing home treats people with advanced Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other illnesses, most of whom are generally unaware of their surroundings. Oscar was one of six cats adopted by Steere House as they felt that the pets were a source of comfort to the patients and made the facility more homelike. Along with the cats, they had a few birds and bunnies.
After about six months, the staff noticed that Oscar, just like the doctors and nurses, would make his own rounds. Oscar would sniff and observe patients, then curl up to sleep with certain people. The patients he would sleep with often died within several hours of his arrival. One of the first cases involved a patient who had a blood clot in her leg. Oscar wrapped his body around her leg and stayed until the woman died. In another case, the doctor had made a determination that the patient would soon die based on their condition, while Oscar simply walked away, causing the doctor to believe that Oscar’s streak had ended. However, it would be later discovered that the doctor’s prediction was simply 10 hours too early: Oscar did eventually visit the patient, who died two hours later.
Oscar’s accuracy led the staff to institute a new and unusual protocol: once he was discovered sleeping with a patient, the staff would call family members to notify them that they should come immediately and be with their loved one. The patient’s family typically didn’t have any issue with Oscar being present at the time of death. When there were objections, or when the nurse on call simply didn’t allow the cat in the room, Oscar would pace back and forth in front of the door and meow in protest.
Dr. David Dosa, a self-proclaimed cat person, noticed that in general, the cat was not particularly friendly and would most often hide away. People usually knew to leave Oscar alone. Very seldom did he display any affection other than to curl up next to a dying patient.
Dr. Dosa compiled his observations of Oscar and met with many family members who had seen Oscar in action. He couldn’t figure out how Oscar was predicting death and didn’t learn much from those he talked to about their experiences. His current theory is that Oscar can smell the release of chemicals that can be detected when someone is dying. Whether or not that is the case, Oscar brings contentment and has a calming effect on the patients and their families, and that is enough.
I had seen a few articles here and there about Oscar the cat, but did not know much prior to reading Making Rounds with Oscar. I figured he was just some overly friendly cat, but became quite interested and intrigued by Dr. Dosa’s account of what he observed.
I was particularly invested in reading about people’s personal dealings with family members going through the degenerative diseases. I have personally lost family members to Parkinson’s, dementia and other disabling diseases. Making Rounds with Oscar gave me a lot of insight on how they must have felt and what their spouses and children had to go through. I think that even though they seemed to have lost most of their memory and/or their ability to communicate, they were still comforted by the presence of loved ones.
Making Rounds with Oscar is definitely a must read.
Jessa lives in Utah with her husband, 2 sons, 2 cats, and 2 dogs. She goes to school full time as an English major with a focus in creative writing. She likes anime and reads books and plays video games in her moments of spare time.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Kelley & Hall Book Publicity. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.