Oscar the cat lives on the third floor of a nursing home in Rhode Island, USA. At first glance Oscar doesn't seem special. He's plain to look at. He's aloof. Like most cats, he's partial to treats and catnip. But in the summer of 2007 Oscar made headlines around the world. So what's so unusual about Oscar? He knows when the hospice patients are going to die. Dr Dosa's job is to respond to people's medical needs, treat them for their ailments and communicate with their families. Oscar takes care of the rest. He is a steady companion as patients descend into death. He is with them when they die. And, because of him, they don't die alone. Can a cat really predict death? Is he smelling something or responding to behavioural clues? Is he helping guide souls to heaven? Oscar's warm and profound story - of his uncanny ability to see death coming, of his steadfast and non-judgmental commitment to sit with patients as they die, of his quiet compassion - is a metaphor for what is important at the end of life.
Dr David Dosa is a geriatrician in Rhode Island and an assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Dr Dosa has published in scientific peer-reviewed literature in the areas of nursing home quality improvement, delirium and end of life care. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two children.