Oscar, Kitty of Doom.
[Boston Globe Staff Photo/Dina Rudick]

Meet Oscar, the Kitty of Doom. The Grim Reapurr. The Malakh ha-Meowvis. The Tabby of Toyt. The little guy that puts the “cat” in Resquies-cat in Pace.

Oscar, who works the dementia unit of the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, has an uncanny knack for knowing exactly when one of the residents is about to shuffle off this Mortal Coil. He came to the attention of the general public thanks to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine back in mid-2007.

In the two years since Oscar was adopted into the third-floor dementia unit… he has maintained close vigil over the deaths of more than 25 patients, according to nursing staff, doctors who treat patients in the home, and an article in tomorrow’s New England Journal of Medicine, written by [Dr. David M.] Dosa.

When death is near, Oscar nearly always appears at the last hour or so. Yet he shows no special interest in patients who are simply in poor shape, or even patients who may be dying but who still have a few days. Animal behavior experts have no explanation for Oscar’s ability to sense imminent death. They theorize that he might detect some subtle change in metabolism – felines are as acutely sensitive to smells as dogs – but are stumped as to why he would show interest.

Since Dr. Dosa wrote his article, Oscar has found himself back in the news, owing to his having continued his string of accurate predictions of passage.  His current number stands at over fifty.

No, this is not a case of that Old Wives’ Tale – the one of cats sucking the breath from babies or sick people as they sleep – come to life. One theory making the rounds is that Oscar is able to detect the scent of the ketones given off by cells as their metabolic processes shut down. Other, farther-out speculation involves an eerie sort of feline clairvoyance. At the very least, Oscar simply seems to have a bizarre empathy for those in the final stages of dying.

Fortunately for most of the people at Steere House, by the time Oscar shows up, they’re pretty much out of it. That’s good, because the sight of Death-Kitty at the foot of your gurney might just be enough to frighten you to death.

I suppose there are far worse ways to be sent to the Cosmic Locker Room than to be in bed with a cat sitting next to your head, purring softly.

Death-Kitty: It’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say.


Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman, AKA the Bard of Affliction, lives in the steaming suburbs of Atlanta with his wife and two cats. He is partial to good food, fine wine, tasteful literature, and Ridiculous Poetry. Most significantly, he has translated the Mr. Ed theme song into four languages.