Barbara J. King

Friday Animal Blog

Oscar the Catís Crossover

July 8, 2011

You know how sometimes TV characters are made to cross over from one show to another? Characters crossed over in the late Ď90s, for instance, within a pair of David E. Kelley programs, Ally McBeal and The Practice. Or stretching further back in TV-land time, Happy Days folks appeared on Laverne & Shirley and vice versa. Then there are the various sub-incarnations of Law & Order with crossover; you get the idea.

This week, in an exciting summer innovation!, the Friday Animal Blog is crossing over with a column of mine at the online literary magazine I admit, the analogy is imperfect, because what Iím doing is a straightforward steal, reprising my July 5th Bookslut column because I think my blog readers will be as captivated as I was by a book about Oscar, the famous nursing-home cat who is able to predict the imminent death of elderly residents.

I write about not only David Dosaís book on Oscar, but also on a second book as well, The Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross. Taken together this pair of books tackles terribly challenging issues of end-of-life care that face the families of dementia patients and other elderly people.

But here, today? Oscarís the star. Heís an unusually sensitive cat, yet his actions fit on a continuum of what some of my cats, and the cats of friends, have done in exhibiting acute awareness and caring to family members. Through his actions, Oscar has brought not fear but pure calm comfort to the loved ones of nursing-home residents.

Read my column here:


Iíd be interested to know your own responses to Oscarís behavioró and, how does he do it?


  1. July 8, 2011 3:34 PM EDT
    Barbara, my mother died at home and was "unconscious" (though I increasingly am not sure what that means) for the last two days of her life.Her little dog Scooter (now ours) lay on the bed with her, at her feet, as was his custom. About ten hours before she died, he jumped off the bed, left the room and curled up in front of the patio window, in the next room. People took him for walks, but he did not eat, and he did not go back into the room where Mom was. My brother-in-law, Bill, who is an oncology nurse, and I were with my mother the next morning and Scooter was sleeping by the window. Bill suddenly said, "There's no time to call anyone," and leaned over Mom. Scooter, seemingly in his sleep, howled, which I've not heard him do before or since. Bill said, "I'm not getting a pulse." And that was that. I'm a very skeptical and rational person, and. . . and. . . I am strongly suspecting that ten hours before Mom died, Scooter sensed something, and that he knew when she breathed her last. There is so very much we don't know-- And my thoughts continue to be with you and your family. Daughters, yes--there is an enormous sisterhood of women who have been through this initiation.
    - Mary Pratt
  2. July 8, 2011 7:43 PM EDT
    Mary, thank you for this moving story of the hours surrounding your mother's death. I'm increasingly convinced, judging from accounts of people whose retelling I trust and respect, that in some cases animals (particularly dogs and cats, which makes sense) do know the timing of a family member's death. In a small way I am compiling these reports, because there is strength in the collectivity (on a number of levels). Thank you for your very kind wishes.
    - Barbara J. King
  3. July 10, 2011 3:22 PM EDT
    Barbara, I've come here via the Bookslut link ... I'm a skeptic about a lot of things, but not about our animal friends' capacities for pure presence. There's so much in life that we can't perceive with our 'ordinary' senses ... That's where mysteries begin ...

    I could tell you about the cats in my life who have fallen down to my chest when I've been mourning ... They've laid sprawling, kneading, licking my face, insisting on my own presence with theirs ...

    One of my beloved cats, who died four years ago, was in the care of my vet ... My then-husband and I were summoned one evening to discuss immediate euthanasia. My husband and our vet were for it at the time; I was not. Don't ask how ... but I *knew* it was not her time. I leaned as much as I could of me into her container, put my hands on her, and *willed* her life force to surge. She rallied. She bunted my hand, and then my face. Our vet was astonished. She put a little bit of food down for our girl, who ate it. Our baby came home about three days later, and lived for another three months.

    So many mysteries ...
    - Jaliya
  4. July 10, 2011 10:03 PM EDT
    Jaliya, sometimes, people look askance when I say there are many mysteries when it comes to animals' knowing, because I'm a scientist. But there simply are, and it needn't be incompatible with being a scientist to say so. My next book deals with some of these, and the more I research, read, and talk to people, as I write, the more amazing things I hear... and believe. Thank you for adding your experience here. I'm so glad for you and for your loved cat, that you had that extra time together. There's a wide open channel between some people and some animals, that's for sure.
    - Barbara J. King
  5. July 11, 2011 10:54 PM EDT
    I've come to see scientific enquiry as one of the routes of wonder ... and one of humanity's arts of making sense of things ... Mystery and scientific curiosity are natural companions ... Perhaps science is a mystical art in itself -- a most practical art ... and simply another way of approaching the Mysteries ...
    - Jaliya
  6. July 12, 2011 9:28 AM EDT
    Agreed, Jaliya. Recently I had a letter to the NY Times published on the topic of science & wonder as partners. You may have to cut and paste the link, but here it is: Also, nice to see you on twitter, too!
    - Barbara J. King

Selected Works

Why are animals so irresistible to us? Why do we live with and care so deeply about them? From the famous "art caves" of ice-age Europe, to the ancient villages where animals were first domesticated, to stories of apes, whales, dogs, and cats doing fascinating things today, King weaves together a scenario about the animal-human bond that encompasses our past, present and future.
Can scientists discover a prehistory of religion just as they have traced the evolution of technology, language, and art? What does compassion in chimpanzees, or burial patterns in our human ancestors and Neanderthals, tell us about the origins of religion? In Evolving God, named a Top Ten Religion Book for 2007 by the American Library Association, Barbara King explores these questions.
How do chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas-- the African apes -- communicate using body postures and gestures? Using her many years of experience studying these apes, Barbara King answers this question in a book that offers a new perspective on the evolution of language.