August 6, 2007
The Unconditional Love
of Oscar and Scamp
A grieving daughter said it best to her son, “He’s here to help Grandma
get to heaven.”
is Oscar, a two-year-old adopted feline supervisor at a Rhode Island
hospice care unit. The tabby cat made national headlines recently when
his story was posted on the website of the New England Journal of
Oscar’s story is available at this URL:
Read it and weep – not tears of sorrow, but of joy and gratitude.
Next comes word of Scamp, an adopted schnauzer with similar duties at a
Canton, Ohio, nursing home. Like Oscar, Scamp always seems to know when
a resident of his facility is close to death.
human beings don’t seem to know what to make of the animals’ abilities
to predict and indicate imminent death and their devotion to the person
dying. Inane and inaccurate headlines drone on about “ominous talent”
and “first grim cat, now grim dog.”
What a tragedy. Death holds such terror for us, and we are so divorced
from our spiritual natures, that we react to the compassion and empathy
shown by these two creatures with fear, distrust and even a tinge of
loathing. Yuck. How creepy. Stay away.
Perhaps we should take a hint from the people who care for the elderly
and the dying on a daily basis and are familiar with Oscar and Scamp.
The staff at the Rhode Island facility awarded Oscar a plaque of thanks
for “his compassionate hospice care.” A staff member of the Ohio nursing
home told a local TV station that Scamp brings “great joy” to everyone
And, typical of dogs and cats, Scamp will try to comfort residents of
his facility who are grieving, but not yet dying, while Oscar pays his
attentions strictly to those whose death is within several hours, and
otherwise remains aloof while he makes his daily rounds. No
nose-licking, tail-wagging namby-pamby for this self-respecting feline.
Even so, Scamp and Oscar are on a mission – to ease both the dying and
their loved ones through the transition erroneously known as death. The
animals’ presence at a resident’s bedside alerts staff to contact the
patient’s family in time for them to say their good-byes. Being able to
do so provides a tremendous amount of comfort to the dying person’s
loved ones. And for those without family able to arrive in time, Oscar
and Scamp make sure that none of those they watch over dies alone.
There are several scientific theories about how the animals can sense
impending death. These explanations focus on chemical smells, called
pheromones, that animals can detect, but elude human nostrils.
That may be so, but it does not exclude another interpretation of these
events. The dying most often are comatose, unconscious or too far in
mental collapse to be aware of the animals’ presence by what we consider
normal methods. They cannot use their physical senses to see, hear or
feel the animals’ fur or slight weight next to them.
Even unconscious, however, the dying are still capable of sensing and
benefiting from the vibration of love. Detecting love’s presence is a
gift of the spirit that precedes physical life and remains once it is
over because it is the essence of the energy-spirits that we are. Love
does not depend on physical life or physical senses to exist and be
given or received.
And surely it is love that Oscar and Scamp are giving those at death’s
door. Love without any demand for something in return. All of us long
for that kind of love and we need not wait for it until the end of our
physical lives. It’s available to us right now, if only we open our
hearts and souls to the possibilities, and take a hint from two humble
animals that are here to show all of us, not solely the dying, the way
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