Saturday, July 28, 2007

Oscar, the hospice cat

Oscar the cat predicts patients' deaths
By RAY HENRY, Associated Press Writer
Friday, Jul 27, 2007

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.

"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. "This is not a cat that's friendly to people," he said.

Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill. She was convinced of Oscar's talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn't eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near. Oscar wouldn't stay inside the room though, so Teno thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor's prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient's final two hours, nurses told Teno that Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.

Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa's article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying. If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it's also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.

Nursing home staffers aren't concerned with explaining Oscar, so long as he gives families a better chance at saying goodbye to the dying. Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his "compassionate hospice care."

Science writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

New England Journal of Medicine:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

ROAR #1 ~ all about animals

Look at the floor design of my pedestal in the large photo above. See those faces? To me they look like the famous painting by Munch called The Scream. I believe there are at least 21 screaming needs out there in the world, and I intend to ROAR about them. Today I am ready for the first big ROAR, and it's about animals. Yes, animals. You humans are animals, though you like to put yourself into some sort of "higher" category. Well, I'm a lion who is proud to call myself an ANIMAL. Do I sound angry? Well, I'm getting there!

This ROAR will take several posts over several days. So far, these are some of the things on my mind:
(1) personhood
(2) extinction
(3) animal rights
(4) domestication
(5) captivity

This is the only photo I have of my friend Ishmael, on the cover of one of his books. Some day we'll have to get together and have a photo made of the two of us together, and then I'll post our photo on my sidebar for all to see. Anyway, Ishmael is a teacher and has tried to teach several students, one at a time. Following his example, I am now trying to teach my first student, whose name is Bonnie. I have an advantage over Ishmael, since Bonnie has already read some of HIS books, so we shall see where this new endeavor takes us.

Ishmael and I both remember Africa. There he was a member of a gorilla family, and I was a member of a lion family. When Ishmael's mother was killed and he was captured and put behind bars, he lost that family. In his family, he didn't think of himself as an individual, but as part of a hand. In the zoo with other gorillas, it was more like severed fingers which do not make a hand. When I was taken from the Serengeti to Lyon, I was with other lions, but we were not a family.

My first ROAR includes the agony of separation from family. What right do humans have to capture and imprison animals? Do we have no rights at all? You put us behind bars like prisoners, and for what? What have we done that was so wrong? Now some talk about extinction, that you are protecting us, saving us from extinction. ROARRRRRR! And who, pray tell, is driving us to extinction? YOU are!

We are persons, too. I have gotten Bonnie to agree with me on that, and she's on her computer right now, posting something on her blog about animals as persons. In spite of roar elocution lessons, Bonnie is still learning how to really ROAR. Ishmael says he became a person on the day he realized he had a name:

I soon understood that these sounds in some mysterious way attached directly to the two of us as individuals. You, who have had a name from birth and who probably think that even a pet dog is aware of having a name (which is untrue), cannot imagine what a revolution in perception the acquisition of a name produced in me. It would be no exaggeration to say that I was truly born in that moment -- born as a person. (From page 14 in the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.)

When Ishmael realized those sounds had meaning, he began to listen closely to what humans visiting the menangerie were saying. Within a couple of years he was able to follow most nearby conversations. But he was puzzled by something.

I knew by now that I was a gorilla and that Zsa-Zsa was a chimpanzee. I also knew that all the inhabitants of the wagons were animals. But I could not quite make out the constitution of an animal; our human visitors clearly distinguished between themselves and animals, but I was unable to figure out why. If I understood what made us animals (and I thought I did), I couldn't understand what made them not animals. (From Ishmael, page 15.)

And that's a problem for me as well. If you would simply recognize that you are animals, part of the animal kingdom, perhaps you would empathize a bit more with those of us that are not human. We are no less individual persons than you are.

I have been sitting here silently, with my paws poised over my keyboard, wondering how you people are taking these words from a literary lion. I think I'll just break it off here for the day, as I see Bonnie has finished her shorter piece and has dinner ready for the two of us. I'll let you ponder my prose, which I hope is not too ponderous (it's a joke ... you're supposed to laugh). I shall return on the morrow to say a bit more, hoping I'll get through to someone. Maybe Ishmael will read it and comment. Hmmm, I'm not sure he has a computer. Okay, so maybe some of you (one of you?) will add a word or two. What are you thinking? If you need to visualize some of this, look at the cover of the book I'm reading right now. See? Joy Adamson knows that lioness was "born free" before she got mixed up with humans.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Little bundles of fur

And now, the BIG news at our house! Our little bundles of fur arrived, right on time. We had twins.

Shange was born first; her name in Zulu means "she who walks like a lion." That's her photo on the left.

On the right is her brother Xamm, whose name is from Namibia and means "lion." Both cubs and mother are doing well. I've been roaring like a proud papa!

I'll post more photos in the near future, but now ... now I should have a little time to begin my 21 ROARS, as promised.

Home, Sweet Home

Sorry I haven't been posting lately, but a lot has been happening on the home front. You have seen our entrance under construction in an earlier post. When our home was completed, as this photo shows, Sophia arrived and was able to furnish our place to her liking. (See her picture on my sidebar.) You can see our back yard through those windows, and the entrance is behind me. We knew we had to have a big yard for our cubs, with woods beyond our yard. Now we were ready, just in time, because it was time! (See the post above.)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The lion sleeps tonight

It ain't over 'til the hippo sings! Bonnie has shared with me her joy at learning my favorite song in a roundabout way. Louis told Dewey who told Bonnie that my favorite song is "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." If she had asked, I would have told her, but I think there was more to it than that. It seems to me Bonnie was so shocked that Dewey considered her a Rockin' Girl Blogger, she was giddy. I read Dewey's post naming her and discovered Bonnie never even said, "Thanks, Dewey." (Bonnie just looked over my shoulder and said, "Roary, don't say that!" What do you think, friends, will Bonnie go back and thank Dewey?) Anyway, here's my song, if you want to hear my favorite version of it.