Oscar is a tabby cat who resides on the third floor of the Steere House Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Adopted by the nursing home as a kitten, Oscar has lived his entire life on the 41 bed advanced dementia unit. Much of his first year on the unit was nondescript until Oscar suddenly began making visits to residents on the third floor shortly before his first birthday. Though his visits originally went unnoticed, family members and staff began to realize that Oscar’s appearances coincided with the deaths of terminal patients on the third floor. The passing of residents on the third floor was not unexpected due to the advanced condition of residents on the floor; however, Oscar’s visits proved to coincide remarkably with a resident’s final hours. Otherwise he was nowhere to be found. On several occasions over the next year, Oscar seemed to be the first “health care provider” on the floor to realize that a resident was about to die.
In time, staff at the nursing home began to rely on Oscar as an “early warning system” announcing to those present that it was time to notify family and increase hospice services for those close to death. For his service to his patients, a local Hospice organization even awarded him with their annual “Hospice Champion” award. When Dr. Dosa’s essay was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Oscar’s story made international headlines. For several days, “Oscar the cat” was the most widely searched term on several web search engines.
These days, Oscar continues to patrol the halls of Steere House’s third floor dementia unit. Although he has at times been caught sleeping on the job, Oscar continues to hold vigils for departing patients–mostly to the delight of family members struggling to deal with the death of their loved ones. He continues to be mentioned routinely in obituaries and during funeral services.