Bow-wow- not only cats sense death.

A few blogs back I talked about Oscar, the Rhode Island feline who spookily holds death-bed vigils for residents at Providence’s Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre.

 It appears it’s not just cats who have the gift of sensing when that Final Taxi is drawing near. We now read about Scamp, a Schnauzer from Ohio, who goes to the bedsides of the dying elderly.

Scamp prowls the corridors of The Pines nursing home in Canton and “tries to raise the alarm when he gets the feeling that one of the seniors is at death’s door”.  Staff member explain that the dog will run around a room or bark at the room when he knows that something is going on.

Director of nursing Adeline Baker said Scamp had forecast “practically every one of the 40 or so deaths that have occurred in the three years”, including that of Andrew Popa. Popa’s friend Yvette Notturno has heard about the dog’s “gift”, and “when she got a call from a nurse that Scamp wouldn’t leave her friend’s bedside, she came right away knowing that her friend didn’t have long”. Popa duly died shortly after.

The Schnauzer owner, Deirdre Huth, stresses that Scamp’s presence was welcomed by residents  of the Pines. They know that he is not a grim reaper.  Baker has said, “It’s kind of comforting to know that maybe at the end of our lives, if we don’t have family members, there will be somebody there to be with us.”

Cat Predicts Deaths At Hospice

Final Taxi Logo

My daughter has had over 62 surgeries and everytime she comes home our cat seems to know she needs that extra attention. It is funny how animals have a hidden knowledge of when someone needs that special care.

Now I have found out about Oscar the cat. He 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.”

Elderly Pets: Retirement and Hospice

Pet Retirement

What do you do with a pet that is old and has special needs. Not everyone can give them the care that they require. It is much like an older person where you want to give them the best care but you have a life and work that you need to do so both of you can be in comfort.

A retirement home for a human is a multi-residence housing facility intended for the elderly. Facilities are provided within the building that includes places for meals, gathering, recreation, and some form of health or hospice care. These places often help in getting people prepared for their Final Taxi.
Now what do you do with pets that have reached retirement age? The answer is being met worldwide.

In Japan the first nursing home for dogs with round-the-clock monitoring by doctors has just started up. Owners pay $800 a month to keep their dogs at the Soladi Care Home for Pets.

The home, which can accept 20 dogs at one time, also employs puppies to play with the aging dogs to help them keep fit and feel younger and specially fortified food will be fed to them as well.

Analysts say that a boom in pet ownership in Japan, coupled with better health care and a more balanced diet, has led to a surge in elderly pets in Japan. That has spurred doting owners to turn to vitamins, aromatherapy and even acupuncture to help their companions through their old age.

Not to be outdone a US organization has been doing the same thing with abandoned elderly pets for a few years.

OldDog Haven out of Arlington, Washington is an assisted living and hospice for dogs. It is a very small group of people with a network of foster homes and supporters. Their goal is to provide a loving, safe home for senior dogs abandoned at this stage of their lives.

Old Dog Haven says, “All too many dogs of advanced years are rejected by their owners, or left behind when an elderly owner must give up their beloved pet and no family members want the dog. Instead of living cherished last years in a loving family they are dumped at shelters where their chance of adoption is almost zero, or passed around to others and ignored or left in the yard. Many of these dogs are in poor physical condition as well, making them even less appealing to others. Helping them is sometimes challenging, is often expensive, but is very very rewarding. Our goal is that their last years are happy and that they die safe and at peace, knowing they are loved. Wouldn’t we all wish this for our own pets, and for ourselves?”

Pet’s Remains: Caskets, Cemeteries & Cremation

The moon is full, the air is still, All of the sudden I feel a chain,
Victor is grinning, flesh rotting away, Skeletons dance, I curse this day,
And the night when the wolves cry out, Listen close and you can hear me shout.

I don’t want to be buried in a pet sematary I don’t want to live my life again….

——- The Ramones

When our cat, JiJi, died we felt like we lost a member of the family. She had been my daughter’s best friend while she was sick and having several surgeries.

We wanted to do something special for her since she gave so much for us.

I grew up on a farm so when animals died we had a place over in the “north 40” that we disposed of the bodies. Most pets went there and you just dug a hole and plopped the corpse in. For the household animals we would put them in a burlap feed bag or a shoebox and had graves beside the woods.

I’ve known only a few people who have used a pet cemetery. It is a graveyard for animals of emotional significance which are ceremonially buried. This has been in use for years.

Most families bury deceased pets on their own properties, mainly in a yard, with a shoe box or any other type of container served as a coffin. The Ancient Egyptians are known to have mummified and buried cats, which they considered deities. The Romans had very similar ways of dealing with pet loss. Expansive parcels of land would be set aside for large stone monuments dedicated to the owner’s pet. Alexander the Great being one of the most famous pet lovers of his time dealt with the loss of his pets in this way. The Cimetière des Chiens in Asnières-sur-Seine in Paris, is an elaborate, sculpted pet cemetery believed to be the first zoological necropolis in the world.

Today, a growing number of funeral homes and cemeteries are offering burial and cremation services for animals to help bereaved pet owners cope with their loss. There’s a growing trend of those who want to celebrate their departed animals with the many services now offered. Pet crematories have already opened throughout the country as well a movement to have pets buried with their owner in the same plot.

One of the biggest trends is for there to now be an expense and elaborate casket for the beloved animal.

Dow’s Wood Products in Maine started making custom-built pet caskets and urns that are sold through animal shelters, pet stores and veterinary clinics. They first began making the caskets a couple of years ago after talking to funeral directors, who told the owner that they could fill a void. A family had hired him to make a casket after the family cat died. They didn’t want to just throw the cat in a hole and wanted something nice to put it in. A year later, the family ordered another casket for their family dog. Dow now has a brochure in which he lists four pet casket sizes ranging in price from $95 to $395. The boxes are made of pine and are lined in satin, and customers can buy engraved brass plaques for an additional fee.

In Tennessee, Hoyt and Wanda Northcutt started Angel Sleeping Pet Caskets in early 2000 shortly after Hoyt’s sister’s beloved cat, Snoopy died. She was devastated by the loss and couldn’t bear the thought of just burying him in the ground unprotected. They asked a relative, who was also a professional carpenter, to build a pet casket from material found around their home. They painted the casket white and the trim gold. The casket was lined inside with white satin from the local WalMart store. This ended up becoming the very first Angel Sleeping Pet Casket. Now, thanks to the internet, there are thousands of their pet caskets being used as final resting places for beloved pets and have been shipped to every one of the contiguous 48 states. In fact one of their pet caskets was purchased by 20th Century Fox Studios in Hollywood for use in an episode of the popular TV show “House“.

As for our beloved cat, JiJi, my daughter was the one who made the decision of where her best friend should be placed. Pet cemeteries were out since she had to travel to visit and a wooden casket was too “cramped and scary” for the kitty. In the end it was a cardboard box with a picture of her and JiJi beside the body, a few flowers and a grave in the far end of the backyard beside an old oak tree.


( My question to you is how did you dispose of your most beloved pet ?)

My podcast: