The Speculist: Cat Who Predicts(?) Death


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Cat Who Predicts(?) Death

On the surface, it's a very touching story:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Yeah, poignant. Not to go all Occam's Razor or anything, but has it occurred to anyone to ask whether this cat might be somehow killing these people?



If I were a resident I wouldn't be all that thrilled about the grim reaper actually living in the nursing home disguised as a cat.


I'm reminded of old cat superstitions about them stealing the breath or vitality from babies.

I was wondering if they were all allergic, actually.

I don't doubt that cats CAN smell death, but the larger question is the cat's motivation. My guess is that he's merely seeking a warm bed whose occupant will stay still.

The idea that animals could detect approaching death is not scientifically implausible. When we reach our final hours, a large number of chemical changes occur in our bodies. Its not at all unreasonable that animal's much finer sense of smell could detect the changes.

The real mystery is why the cat would be attracted to dying people. That's kind of creepy.

While a student in about 1969 I rented an apartment in Boston for the Summer. It came with two roommates and a resident cat. I was sleeping on the couch one night when I dreamed that I couldn't breathe. I woke suddenly and reached for my face...I found the cat sleeping covering my nose and mouth. A three cushion shot took care of the problem. An elderly patient might not be able to handle such an event.

What is a cat doing wandering around a nursing home, anyway?

I've never seen a nursing home that wouldn't be improved by having a couple of pets wandering around.

It's a cat -- it doesn't kill the people, it only FEEDS ON THEIR SOULS.

Must be Huple's cat.

I suppose the cat is named "Jack Bauer".

What, Schroedinger's cat can't get a little revenge?

Hee hee, that was my exact thought when I read the story: killer cat!

Given the cat's reputation, nobody is going to let it curl up beside them unless they are too weak to push it away. So it's self-fulfilling.

Well, I'd add that they used to accuse snakes of milking cows, even though that is impossible. (That didn't stop them from assigning the name "Milk Snake" to a perfectly innocent variety of King Snake!)

But I do think something is clearly going on. I say, let Stephen King have at it.

(Very, very funny post, BTW!)

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