Oscar the cat keeps coming back to comfort patients at a Halifax hospice
'He kind of goes to the people that need him the most in that time'
Tom Gerrior had an unexpected visitor during the last week of his life.
A friendly grey cat named Oscar started showing up at Gerrior's door at Hospice Halifax this summer. The residence in the south end of the city provides end-of-life care for people living with terminal illness.
"The cat would come to the patio door looking in Tom's room during the last week of his life so it gave him a lot. It gave him a big lift," his sister Evelyn Oakley told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia.
Being an animal lover, Gerrior had a few dog treats on hand for the therapy dogs that visited the residence. He asked his sister to make a special trip to the store to get some cat treats just for Oscar.
Neither patients nor staff knew where Oscar came from, or why he arrived.
One day, a staff member decided to put a little note in his collar.
It said something like this: "Your cat's visiting our residence here at Hospice and we don't know if he makes it back to his home. We just want to let you know where he's going and where he might be if you're looking for him," said Oakley.
Oscar's owner, Ann Mann of Halifax, got the note and came by with some flowers, cat treats and a note of her own.
"They were quite excited to see me and said, 'Oh my gosh, Oscar's like a celebrity over here,'" said Mann.
'He delights all the patients'
Some of Oscar's first visits were to a group of patients known as the "garden crew," said Mills.
"We have a wonderful garden outside so everyone got to kind of go hang out in the garden and Oscar started coming around."
Mills said Oscar seemed to be especially taken with Gerrior, who was a big music fan and referred to Oscar as Cat Stevens or Smokey Robinson, for his smoky grey coat of fur.
Oscar will usually saunter up to someone at the hospice, flop over on his belly and wait for a few treats and a pet.
"He delights all the patients. Even folks that couldn't go outside were trying to get the cat to come in to have a visit, and he would come in and say hello and then be on his way," said Mills.
Oakley said Oscar brought her brother a lot of comfort in his final days.
Gerrior spent six months at Hospice Halifax. He died in June.
"I felt it was like a sign of some kind because it's really strange," she said. "He just showed up almost every day."
The organization regularly brings in other therapy pets to visit with patients and their family members.
"Even the dog therapy that comes, they can sense when someone just needs to chill or if someone's excited and I think Oscar's no different," Mills said.
"He kind of goes to the people that need him the most in that time."
Oscar's near-death experience
Mann's daughter, Kirsten, got Oscar from the Nova Scotia SPCA when he was just a kitten.
She said Oscar quickly became an outdoor cat and had a near-death experience when he was hit by a car three years ago.
Mann said since the incident, Oscar, who used to be a typical cat, completely changed.
"He became a little bit more charismatic and just more cuddly and it almost looks like he just takes every day for what it is. He always looks both ways before crossing the street," said Mann.
She said he has since become the neighbourhood cat and people recognize him when he pays a visit.
Mann said after learning that Oscar is lifting spirits, she and Kirsten worry less when he doesn't come home for a while.
"We assume that he is out being a very effective therapy cat and doing his good deed," said Mann.
"Every once in a while she [Kirsten] hears from the hospice that Oscar is back over there or Oscar is in the garden again or Oscar is at somebody's window," said Mann.
"Read what you want into it, but his near-death experience I think did change him and now he's helping other people who, you know, are near death. So I think that's pretty cool."
With files from Carsten Knox and CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia