by Elisa Black
Oscar doing his thing.
I’ve always been a cat lover and find myself studying the activities and expressions of my own two cats. What are they thinking? Are they as sneaky as they look? Do they ever know something I don’t?
When my cat perches himself at eye level and just stares at me what is he thinking? Do cats use their heightened senses to predict disaster, disease and death? Can they be trained or is it more of a bond between cat and owner. I would like to share several stories and you can form your own opinion.
Can cats predict earthquakes and other natural disasters; how do they do it? There are several theories. Most suggest that the cat can detect smells and feel subtle changes and vibrations.
Another theory states the cat reacts to charged ions released into the atmosphere shortly before an earthquake hits. Cats can be seen carrying their kittens outside of a building before an earthquake is felt. With the recent earthquake in Haiti and the possibility of earthquakes in many areas of the world we owe it to ourselves to learn some of the warning signs a cat can give us.
Your cat may be jumpy. Many cats go totally crazy. They will either growl, hiss, climb the screen, pace or demonstrate other negative behavior, completely out of character. Most will attempt to escape the structure although some hide in closets and dark spaces. Your cat may even try to attach itself to your neck or head.
Don‘t dismiss this behavior. Few animal carcasses were ever found after the tsunami earthquake that hit Sri Lanka. Studies suggest animals have some internal radar that tells them a disaster is imminent. Anecdotes can be found back thru the ages that suggest people believe in the predictive ability of domestic and wild animals(1).
Today I Googled "pets dead in Haiti" and not much came up. I'm curious if the animals gave any warnings. We may never know.
There is an almost psychic connection between most owners and their feline housemates but can cats predict disease? Cats are best at predicting disease within their own family. There’s no set of instructions you can buy to teach your cat to do these things. It’s more of an empathic ability created by the bond between cat and family. I’ve had a lot of experience with animals who can predict or recognize health problems. I currently live with a 10 year old retired boxer mix seizure dog.
I acquired him when he was 6 weeks old and he would act differently when my boyfriend was on the brink of a seizure. There was no formal training and this is usually the way it is with cats. Prior to my seizure dog I owned a dog who wouldn’t leave my daughter’s side when she was sick. She never could pretend to be sick to miss school. Cats are similar in diagnosing the sick.
They tend to hover where they are needed. When my daughter is sick her cat can be found in the bed with her. When she is well the cat is on the back of the couch asleep or happily playing with my cat.
Can cats predict illness and/or be trained as a service animal to predict disease? An animal that assists a person with a mental, physical or psychological disability can be considered a service animal. Many challenge the intelligence of the cat as not being smart enough or focused enough for training. After all, cats are very independent and this isn’t a bad thing. It’s one of the many traits that endear us to our feline friends. While focus is placed on dogs as companions to the blind, there is new information available that suggests cats CAN be trained as a service animal(2) if the cat is fearless and willing to listen and obey simple commands.
Pat Gonser of Citronelle, Alabama is the founder of Pets and People and an advocate on training cats as service animals, especially for predicting seizures. Because there is no organization that focuses on training cats Pat offers a lot of good advice for people who would like to train their cat. Although they cannot be trained in the traditional way dogs are trained, many do pick up on the health problems of their people. I believe the key is for us to learn to read the body language of our cats and to pay close attention if the cat is acting strangely.
One of the most famous cases of a cat predicting disease involved a cat named Tee Cee and his owner Michael Edmunds of Sheffield, England. Michael suffered epileptic seizures and often without warning. It was unsafe for him to venture outside because of the severity and unpredictable nature of his seizures. His family noticed that Tee Cee, who was a kitten the family rescued from a river, would sit and stare at Michael's face. Then the cat would run to Michael's wife and let her know there was a problem.
The family quickly discovered they had an early warning system in the form of their cat. He would summon help then remain by his owner’s side until the seizure was over. Tee Cee was named Cat’s Protection Rescue Cat of the Year for 2006(3).
Not all researchers have ruled out the psychic bond we cat lover’s have with our cats. Perhaps they tune in to body changes when we are sick or depressed. Cats can sense smells and it is possible the human body puts out a different odor shortly before a seizure, illness or death. A lot has been written on dogs diagnosing cancerous sores but cats are also capable of this lifesaving talent. Again most research suggests it’s usually a member of the family or someone the cat is close to. A cat simply cannot go into a room and diagnose skin cancer in one person and heart trouble or seizures in another. That would be great but it’s not going to happen.
The United States has a cat famous for predicting death at the Steere House and Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Oscar is a shelter adoption brought to the center as a kitten and spends a lot of time in the dementia ward where patients are in the end stage of various diseases including Alzheimer‘s. After observing Oscar for several months the doctors and staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds at the center. He would go from room to room and sniff each patient. If all is well Oscar can be found napping at the doctor’s/nurses station. No one would die.
When death is close Oscar will settle in with a patient and within 2 hours the patient is dead. Debate over whether Oscar was picking up on an odor produced by someone dying or body temperature or lack of movement of the patients led Dr. David M. Dosa, a geriatrician at the facility and also affiliated with Alpert Medical School, to write of the cat in the New England Journal of Medicine (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/4/328 is the link). The article is fascinating and I highly recommend all cat lovers read it. Video on Oscar can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19959718/ and on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PxI3efVVeI. Here is another video:
At the time of the article in July 2007 Oscar was 2 years old and had correctly predicted 25 deaths. Dr. Dosa’s article details a day in the life of Oscar. What I found interesting is on many occasions the Dr./nurse would think death imminent on a certain patient and Oscar would stop by for his routine exam, jump onto the bed, sniff the patient and continue with his rounds. He was always correct with his predictions and anytime he curled himself up on a patients bed the nurses trusted his prediction ability.
Family members of the patient would be notified, extra chairs placed in the room, and the priest or reverend called in for final prayer. Oscar’s hospice service has been rewarded by a local hospi ce agency and the facility proudly displays his plaque for “considerate hospice care“.
There is a lot of controversy on Tee Cee the seizure cat. Some argue he would stare at his owner and CAUSE the seizure. There is also a lot of controversy on Oscar. Cat haters say he is a bad omen. That he may even cause the deaths. I believe cat hater’s are the bad omen. Personally I believe these two cats are both heroes. Neither is a pedigree and both began life in a less than desirable way.
Tee Cee was rescued and Oscar was a shelter kitten. I’m sure Michael Edmunds and his family feel Tee Cee is a hero. The staff and family involved at the Steere House and Nursing Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island recognize and admire Oscar for the role he has settled into. His early warning system provides the chance for family members to be with their loved one as they take their last breath and for those with no family Oscar makes sure the person doesn’t die alone. He is there to offer comfort in the end. Which is really all any of us can hope for.
Photo of Oscar: This is a well circulated photo and now presumed to be in the public domain.