Following publication of my Nexus article, “The Shared Evolution of Dolphins and Humans,”1 reader response, as much as my own growing interest in the subject, urged me to pursue it much further by writing a book-length investigation slated for release by Bear and Company in March. But my quest for answers about interspecies’ relationships with a creature apparently so much different than us opened up even stranger digressions mostly left out of my book Our Dolphin Ancestors. These bizarre accounts and insights are instead presented here, in the same venue where my inquiry began, because they merit, I believe, further consideration.
Among them is a one-minute, forty-nine-second home movie taken at the Theater of the Sea, a marine animal park in Islamorada, Florida, USA.2 Since it was posted in May 2012, the film clip has attracted an audience of some seven million viewers (see video image above, more images are in the magazine). It shows two bottlenose dolphins, named Shiloh and Thunder, engaging Arthur, a common domestic cat, which, to all appearances, is thoroughly enchanted with them. There is much chummy inter-play between feline and cetaceans, as the former continuously paws and nuzzles the latters’ snouts. Shiloh and Thunder respond by repeatedly offering their sensitive rostrums for affection, and gently tap the cat on the top of its head – remarkably, given physical disparities between a thirty-three-centimeter-long, four-kilogram, water-hating cat and aquatic, four-meter, one hundred eighty-two-kilogram dolphins.
One might expect Arthur to have been utterly horrified by mere sight of such beasts, while the dolphins, for their part, should have little or no interest in the tiny landlubber. Their gentle care in petting the cat’s head – something most cats do not tolerate by anyone – is astonishing. When they suddenly vanish, Arthur nervously paces back and forth, attentively searching the surface of the water for his absent friends. When they reappear, he rushes back across the gangplank to greet them again with undiminished affection.
Yet, the animals were less curious about exploring two different species, than interested in greeting each other, as though resuming a former acquaintance. They seemed to recognise each other from the start. The cat knew at once that the dolphins were not only harmless, but exceptionally desirable companions, while Shiloh and Thunder quite obviously loved Arthur. It is inexplicable that these wildly divergent species should find the least commonality between themselves, much less such intimate rapport. Throughout their extraordinary encounter, eye contact was virtually unbroken. Given dolphins’ renowned telepathic abilities, as discussed in my forthcoming book – many cat-owners experience telepathic connections with their pets – thought transference appears to have been the medium that fashioned their instantly amiable relationship.
But what kind of information passed between them? Certainly, not words, but perhaps some form of emotional knowing illustrated by mental imagery. Nor was the video-recorded meeting between house-cat and wild dolphins a freak incident. Such unlikely get-togethers have been observed by sailors over thousands of years of sea-faring, whenever their feline shipmates were visited by dolphins. Fundamentally different from each other as these animals might seem, both are notable for their curiosity, acute perception and quick awareness, which may comprise at least the basis for their anomalous commonality. In any case, Arthur’s loving relationship with Shiloh and Thunder suggests an empathic bond between these widely divergent species.
Such enigmatic connections are more commonly observed between felines and humans. A 2012 Anglo-American study of households in England and the United States found that “a third of cat owners claim that their pets respond to their thoughts and silent commands.” The sample study additionally showed that, on average, thirty percent of pet owners claimed their cats usually wait at a door or window a few minutes before their loved ones come home, even when arrival times vary or are never the same. Many cats are reported to know the identity of particular callers before the telephone rings. The wife of a University of California professor at Berkeley told how she always knows when he is calling, because their cat interrupts its sleep or whatever activity in which it is engaged, and rushes to the telephone: “When I pick it up,” she says, “the cat meows. If someone else calls, the cat does not react. It meowed even when my husband called home from Africa or South America.”3
The About.com website relates that an American housewife and her friend “were standing in the bathroom, talking, and the cat was there, too. I happened to mention a recent story I heard from another lady friend about her cat – that her cat always drank from her bathtub’s dripping faucet. Up until then, my friend never saw her kitty drink from anything other than her bowl. The next day, her cat was found in the tub, drinking from the faucet!”4
Sammy, the Norwegian Forest Cat
It is quite one thing to read about the personal experiences of strangers and another to have one yourself. When he was younger, Sammy, our Norwegian Forest cat, sometimes amused my wife and me by leaping on a tree, scooting straight up, fifteen feet or more above the ground. When he got as high as he wanted to go, he looked around from his lofty vantage point, then descended like a lumberjack, tail-first, in spurts. But as he grew older, he withdrew these athletic performances from his normal routine. During one of our strolls across the yard on some spring afternoon, I recalled his tree-climbing days of the past, and wished he would attempt at least one more demonstration. The thought had no sooner crossed my mind than Sammy sprang from my side to a nearby walnut tree, scampering up the first three-quarters of its height, before executing his lumberjack descent.
His unbidden, wholly appropriate response seemed a clear example of telepathy, although it was entirely one-sided. Henceforward, all my attempts at mentally commanding him to jump on another tree failed. He had other paranormal tricks up his sleeve, however. On a single occasion only, after sundown one summer evening, he suddenly and excitedly demanded that the front door be opened. He flew outside without pausing, as usual, at the threshold, dashed down the front steps, and shot around the eastern side of the house. By the time I caught up with him, he was staring fixedly at something on the sidewalk. In the shadows, I could make out what appeared to be a small pile of writhing humps.
On closer inspection, they belonged to a little snake never seen there before or since. Previously, back in the house, all his normal, physical senses had been cut off from the outside world. He could have neither seen nor smelled the creature, and even his superb hearing ability would not have likely detected the smooth motion of a serpent gliding slowly across the sidewalk. Sceptics may dismiss such anecdotal episodes as unrevealing, but anyone who lives on intimate terms with an animal for an extended period can integrate such events into the broader context of the pet’s personality. While these incidents do not pass muster for strict up-holders of the scientific method, it nevertheless depends upon accurate observations. I can only conclude, therefore, that Sammy accessed a form of extrasensory perception to determine the presence and whereabouts of the snake, which was otherwise unknown to him.
Can a Cat Know the Time?
More remarkable than Sammy’s talents at remote viewing is his concept of time, as demonstrated during our outdoor excursions. He is very sensible about them, does not run off, stays fairly close to me and mostly out of mischief, so does not require a leash. If I take along some writing that needs work, listen to music on my ‘walkman’, or read, we could spend hours together ‘outside’, a word he certainly knows. More often, my time is limited, and our walks may go on for ten or twenty minutes, though we usually take several each day.
It was at the outset of one of our first outdoor jaunts that I glanced at my watch, and made a mental note to myself: “We’ll go back inside the house at 2:30.” For the next half hour, Sammy went about his usual business of sniffing the air, chomping grass, urinating on a territorial bush, exploring a suspicious hole in the yard, making his customary inspection of the back patio, chasing a squirrel, stalking a mole, or observing bugs and birds from a favourite vantage-point. In the midst of these commonplace feline pursuits, he paused for a moment, while a puzzled expression came over his face, as though he were trying to remember something, then bolted up the front steps and demanded to be let in the door. My watch read precisely 2:30.
What first seemed a trifling coincidence progressively grew into something more significant. Over the subsequent years of our friendship, we shared and continue to share – weather permitting – daily kitty walks, which may take place from early morning to dusk, but never at the same hour. Usually, I do not think of a definite minute when we should go back inside, and either of us concludes our walk in a normal fashion. Any potential visual clues from me – conscious or not – Sammy may pick up seem unlikely, due to the entirely random nature of these outings. Yet, he abruptly terminates about sixty-five per cent of his walks at the explicit instant I mentally programmed before we set out. For example, in three, consecutive walks I counted, he concluded each one at the appointed minute.
Engaged as I am in my own activity during our walks, I usually forget about the specific time I predetermined for their conclusion. Even so, Sammy still returns to the house at that preordained moment, often to the exact second. Moreover, whenever I mentally willed him to come in from the outdoors, without having scheduled any prior cut-off, he never responded. What could a cat possibly know about time? Even if Sammy does indeed read my mind, the hour or minute I set inside my head to end our walk is surely far beyond the limits of his feline intellect to grasp. Yet, the timeliness of his behaviour is repeatedly – if not invariably – demonstrable. What it suggests is just as certainly outside our current ability to understand inter-species communication.
The famous British biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, proposes a broader basis than explanations for telepathy, although inclusive of extrasensory perception: “Natural systems, or morphic units, at all levels of complexity, are animated, organised, and coordinated by morphic fields, which contain an inherent memory. Natural systems inherit this collective memory from all previous things of their kind by a process called morphic resonance, with the result that patterns of development and behaviour become increasingly habitual through repetition.”5
In other words, members of a particular group are linked by self-organising energy fields that contain a collective memory unique to themselves, and shape certain patterns of behaviour or adaptation. Applying his hypothesis to the animal kingdom, Sheldrake maintains that animals communicate telepathically among themselves and with us through emotional bonding. Hence, morphic fields are channels for extrasensory perception. But theoretical proposals are less capable of explaining how a common house cat born in the United States ten years ago is capable of regularly predicting the imminent death of his human companions with perfect accuracy.
The Cat That Knows When Death Approaches
While a kitten, Oscar was adopted from a local animal shelter to serve as a so-called ‘therapy cat’ at Providence, Rhode Island’s Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He spends most his time in the facility’s third-floor, end-stage dementia section, a forty-one-bed unit for treating sufferers with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses. Most of the residents are terminally ill and generally unaware of their surroundings. Some months after Oscar settled in, staff members noticed that, like the doctors or nurses, he began making his own customary rounds, sniffing and observing patients, then curling up to sleep with certain convalescents. Those he slept with died within two hours of his arrival. He remains with an invalid until he or she passes away, then, post mortem, quietly leaves the room.
“He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” observes David Dosa, a geriatrician, assistant professor at Rhode Island’s Brown University, and affiliate of Warren Alpert Medical School, both in Providence.6
“It’s not that the cat is consistently there first,” says Dr. Joan Teno, who cares for Steere House residents and sees Oscar on a regular basis. “But the cat always does manage to make an appearance.”7
Also, he is “not a cat that’s friendly to [living] people,” states Dr. Dosa. When, for example, an elderly woman with a walker passed him by during his rounds, Oscar “[let] out a gentle hiss, a rattlesnake-like warning that [said] ‘leave me alone’.”8
He only shows consistent affection to terminally ill persons. In an early, typical instance, Oscar wrapped his body around the ice-cold calf of an old woman who had a serious blood clot in her leg, and stayed with her until she died. By the time Steere House staff members counted twelve persons in succession he had accurately prognosticated with impending death, his powers seemed to fail him. Having determined that another woman was about to die, an attending physician noticed that Oscar took no interest in the situation, and casually walked away. But the cat proved the doctor wrong, because she survived for another ten hours. Oscar dutifully returned to the patient, curling up in her lap and purring, until she died two hours later.
According to Dr. Teno, “it always seems to be in the last two hours” that he makes his farewell visits.9 Since Oscar began his ministrations, he has correctly predicted an average of ten deaths per year, bringing his total number to more than one hundred. His accuracy persuaded Steere House directors to institute a unique protocol: when discovered sleeping with a patient, family members are notified of their loved one’s momentarily expected passing. Most of them do not object to a cat’s presence at the time of death, but on those rare occasions when relatives request Oscar’s removal from the room, he invariably shows his annoyance by pacing back and forth in front of the closed door and loudly meowing in protest.
Dr. Dosa speculates that, “the cat might be picking up on specific odours surrounding death.”10 He is supported by Dr. Teno: “I think there are certain chemicals released when someone is dying, and he is smelling and sensing those.”11 Margie Scherk, a Vancouver, British Columbia veterinarian and president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, suspects “he is smelling some chemical released just before dying” – ketones, bio-chemicals produced by decaying cells. “Cats can smell a lot of things we can’t.”12 While no one could disagree with her last statement, Scherk’s and her colleagues’ conclusions are not convincing.
Although Oscar was one of six cats simultaneously delivered to Steere House in 2005, he alone comforts the dying in their last moments. Also, no other cat, anywhere, evidences such regularly attentive behaviour, so far as I have been able to determine. However, cats have long been known to ‘knead’ ailing or dying animals – feline and human – by slowly, rhythmically, gently pumping their front paws, back and forth, on a suffering creature, while purring with half-closed eyes in an apparent state of altered consciousness, an apparent effort at healing, somewhat like “the laying on of hands” practiced by spiritual healers. Since ketones are emitted by someone twenty-four hours, more or less, before expiring, they cannot be responsible for prompting Oscar, because he only visits the dying no sooner than one hundred twenty minutes prior to their deaths. More importantly, Scherk, et al, ignore the most important question posed by his actions: why does he perform them?
The answer is obvious to observers unencumbered by materialism; namely, Oscar feels compassion for humans experiencing the last and probably greatest trauma of their lives, and voluntarily assists them in an otherwise lonely, difficult transition. He recognises a resident’s forthcoming demise in his or her diminishing aura, that metaphysical light source all living things emit until it declines with terminally ill health and is ultimately extinguished when the physical body ceases to function. While the accompanying release of ketones cannot account for Oscar’s fortuitous bedside manners, another set of bio-chemicals produced by a woman during pregnancy may at least partially explain why cats commonly become especially attentive and affectionate toward an expectant mother. They detect human female pheromones, which are similar to feline versions.
Reverence for Cats in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians knew less about pheromones but they observed the particular concern and care cats show human mothers-to-be. Bast, among the oldest-known deities in the Nile Valley, was venerated as the divine patroness of pregnant women. Worship of Bast dates as early as the Second Dynasty (circa 2890 BCE), although her cultic origins undoubtedly preceded Dynastic Civilisation in the mid-4th Millennium BCE. Translated as “She of the Ointment Jar,” her name was written with the hieroglyph for a container of protective ointments associated with the goddess. These receptacles, as well as her image, were usually made of a local stone Greek followers referred to, after Bast, as alabaster, a word that passed into our own language. An entire city – Busbastis – was founded in her honour.
Busbastis, originally known in ancient Egypt as Per-Bast – “House of Bast” – was located on the Lower Nile. 20th century excavation of Bast’s temple there yielded in excess of three hundred thousand mummified cats. Previously, during 1888, a farmer accidentally uncovered seven hundred thousand in Beni Hasan, Middle Egypt. These million feline mummies testify to the high veneration with which the ancient Egyptians accorded the creature, which they protected with animal rights legislation. Killing a cat was a capital offense, punishable by death. Whenever a household cat passed away, mourning residents traditionally shaved their hair and eyebrows, as expressions of respect and grief. Not without cause. Nile Valley Civilisation owed its existence to cats, which saved storage granaries from rat infestation. Beyond any obvious, mundane boon they granted, however essential, cats – in the sacred personification of Bast – were regarded as walkers between worlds, this one and the next, natural emissaries to and from the Afterlife.
Cats & Otherworldly Encounters
Something of that ancient conception is borne out in modern accounts around the world describing feline behaviour, as exampled in Oscar, that feline Angel of Death, described above. An American woman recounted how a cat joined her family in reacting to a spectral appearance: “This incident occurred during my junior year of high school, in 1972. During a particularly hot and muggy July evening, my parents, sister and I were seated in the living room watching television. The house was unbearably hot and the windows were open with screens in them. All of this was to no avail that evening. There was no air moving, and I was wearing a light t-shirt and shorts, trying to keep cool. The chair I was sitting in was next to the doorway and the upstairs hallway. The hallway in the house divided the living room from the kitchen and was enclosed on both sides with a large curtain at the bottom of the steps. I looked to my left toward the stairway, just as our cat started up. The cat was a calico and was very even tempered.
“Just as the cat climbed the first step, an icy blast of air rushed down the stairs. The cat hissed loudly and froze. The hair on its back and tail stood straight out, and in its frozen position it resembled a pointer. Simultaneously with the cat’s behaviour, the cold breeze continued to build to the extent that the curtains were almost blowing straight out. In 1972, we had no air conditioning or any other device in the house that could have created the icy air that we now felt. None of us said anything. I felt goose bumps form on my arms and back, and the temperature in the living room perceptibly cooled. Fifteen to twenty seconds had passed with no diminishment of the icy air or relief for our poor cat.
“I got up from the chair and cautiously peered up the stairway. The light at the top of the steps was on and nothing was visible. The cat was still frozen in mid-stride, and the breeze was almost heavy and very cool on the face. Out of the corner of my eye, it appeared that a very faint, gold-tinted light could be seen shimmering. Yet, when I looked directly at the light, nothing could be seen. I continued to look up the stairs for the next few seconds, but could not discern any apparent reason for the arctic air. I sensed something, but could not see it. Suddenly, as quickly as it had occurred, the breeze stopped. The cat shook itself as if it had just recovered from an injury. Her fur relaxed and she proceeded up the stairs and went into the left bedroom.
“The topic of discussion the rest of the evening concerned what had just happened. My father revealed to me that when he was less than three years old, two of his older brothers had been playing cowboys and Indians between the kitchen and the living room of this house. The brothers in question were Buell and Boyd. Boyd, who was a year senior to Buell, was playing the Indian. Buell, in the kitchen, was playing as the cowboy. An old, .22 calibre tube rifle was being used by Buell. Boyd was using an old toy bow. The rifle in question had no firing pin and had been used in this game for years.
“Horribly, unknown to anyone, their older brother Joe had been working on the rifle and had replaced the firing pin. He had loaded and fired the rifle the previous day. One lone shell had been left in the tube. My grandmother, Hazel, had been sitting in the living room forty-one years earlier in approximately the same place I had been. Boyd jumped out from hiding beside his mother. Buell dodged and brought the rifle to bear. He squeezed the trigger and a loud bang echoed in the house. Boyd took the round in his heart. He turned to his mother and said, ‘Mom, I’m shot’. With those words, he collapsed into her arms and died.
“Could what I witnessed twenty-nine years ago have been the spirit of that small boy, my uncle, who died in that same house forty-one years prior? I never felt fear, as I gazed up those stairs, but am absolutely certain that what happened was outside of our normal world. And our cat sensed it, too.”13
Petadviser, an authoritative website consulted by ailurophiles everywhere, carried the following subscriber’s report: “Once upon a time, very long ago, I was visiting my parents’ home, and they had gone out for the evening. I was alone in their very large house, and, sitting with me, was my wonderful great big ginger cat, Gatito. After a while, I felt I could hear the footsteps and voice of my grandmother, who lived about fifty miles from us. It sounded like she was walking all over the place and calling the name, ‘Bill… Bill’. Bill was my father, her son. Ordinarily, I would have felt I was hearing things, but Gatito’s fur puffed up all over the place, and he got into a stalking position, and became uneasy in the house.
“Later, my mother came home, and, while I didn’t tell her I thought I heard Grandma (because she [the mother] was never a believer), I did say I thought I heard noises in parts of the house. She opened doors and walked around to see if everything was in place, and as she did that, Gatito crept along with her – belly to the ground and fur still puffed up all over. The following morning, we heard the news that Grandma had died. It never occurred to mother that I truly had heard Grandma, but my father was always sensitive, and when I told him the story, he truly did believe me, and was very much comforted.”14
On The Catsite, a pet owner recounted how she and her cat, “Toes,” both simultaneously observed the apparition of Penny, an older cat that had recently died: “I was in the kitchen and saw Penny cross the living room and go down the hall to the back of the house. Toes watched her walk by and then took off after her. He came back and looked all over before complaining to me. All I could do was say, ‘I know. I saw her, too’.”15
These accounts are more than anecdotal, since at least one of them was captured on video in 1999.16 A simple laptop with webcam had been set up on the floor of a hallway at the Norton Hall Care Home, in Worchester, England, after repeated complaints from residents and staff about an unknown cat. No one had ever observed the animal, which nonetheless made its presence known by repeatedly meowing late at night. After several weeks of unsuccessful attempts to lure the elusive creature by laying out food and catnip over night, the caretaker positioned his computer camera where the feline fugitive was most often heard, in an effort to at least identify it. The resulting video showed the transparent, ghostly image of an otherwise ordinary, black-and-white cat materialise in a doorway, then saunter down the hall, beyond the webcam.
Among the elderly residents was Mrs. Martha Mildred Jones, a devoted ailurophile, who, earlier in life, ran a stray cat shelter for many years. In an instance of remarkable synchronicity, she died at the Care Home in her ninety-ninth year on the ninth day of September – the ninth month – in 1999. Traditionally, cats are supposed to have nine lives. In any case, the ghost cat of Norton Hall was neither seen nor heard again after Mrs. Jones passed away.
1. Nexus, Vol. 21, No. 3, April-May 2014
2. “Cat and Dolphins playing together,” www.youtube.com/watch?v=rynvewVe21Y
3. Anna Lemind, www.learning-mind.com/do-animals-have-telepathic-abilities
5. David Pratt, “Rupert Sheldrake: A Theosofical Appraisal,”
13. Anna Lemind, op. cit.
16. “Ghost Cat,” www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3gvHfD6ojA
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