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Biochemical explanation for nursing home bedside vigils?

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A cat in Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, appears to sense when one of the elderly residents is about to die, Reuters reports.

Oscar has been at Steere House for two years, during which he's settled down beside 25 old timers shortly before they passed away. Dr Joan Teno, a professor of community health at Brown University in Providence, who treats the centre's patients, said: "It's not that the cat is consistently there first. But the cat always does manage to make an appearance, and it always seems to be in the last two hours."

Dr David Dosa, also of of Brown University, elaborated that on one occasion Oscar had curled up on a female patient's bed, prompting staff to "make calls and set up vigil". When the family arrived, the grandson asked his mother why the cat was there, and she explained: "He is here to help Grandma get to heaven." Grandma died an hour later.

Thomas Graves, a feline expert and chief of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, described Oscar's actions as "such a cat thing to do", but admitted: "Those things are hard to study. I think probably dogs and cats can sense things we can't."

Dr Teno concluded: "I don't think this is a psychic cat. I think there's probably a biochemical explanation." ®

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