While animals are often considered simplistic in many respects, history has proven that while lacking in certain cognitive aspects, animals often exhibit a connection with their environment that surpasses human instincts.
So far, animals have been credited with predicting earthquakes, creating complex languages, and anticipating diseases. Some stories are backed by science; others by the ordinary people who swear them to be true. Either way, these animals demonstrate a knack for the inexplicable.
America’s Sweetheart: Punxsutawney Phil
Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who has the power to change Americans’ hopes for an early spring, is arguably one of the most well-known animals with a sixth sense. Each year on February 2nd, crowds gather to observe the groundhog as he ventures from underground to the surface. According to popular belief, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.
The Groundhog Day tradition links back hundreds of years to Candlemas Day, when an animal, usually a hedgehog, would be brought out if the sun made an appearance, hence casting a shadow and predicting six more weeks of bad weather. Early believers called this continuation of dreary weather a “Second Winter.”
Over the years, Punxsutawney Phil has grown increasingly popular. In 1995, he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, and in 2001, his prediction was broadcasted live on the JumboTron in Times Square. Sadly, despite all of the press and fan attention, Punxsutawney Phil incorrectly predicts the continuation of winter weather more than 50% of the time. Maybe his sixth sense isn’t so good after all.
Oscar the Cat
While most cats spend their time snoozing on the couch or chasing inanimate objects, Oscar, a plump, white and tortoiseshell cat, spends his time predicting death. A permanent fixture at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre, this cat has accurately predicted the deaths of more than 50 residents. When a patient nears death, Oscar goes to his/her room and lies on the bed, only leaving to use the litter or to eat.
Oscar’s impressive predictions originally gained credibility in the New England Journal of Medicine, and these days, they are so accurate that hospital staff contacts family members once the cat takes up vigil in a patient’s room. Doctors and scientists suggest that Oscar is able to recognize death by detecting ketones, the distinctly-odoured biochemicals given off by dying cells.
In 2010, Oscar’s story gained further attention when David Dosa wrote a New York Times bestselling book that detailed the cat’s amazing story. While some feel that Oscar is the ultimate bearer of bad news, family, staff members, and doctors say otherwise. Oscar has inspired patients to make last minute amends with their loved ones and provides hope for those who have longer to live.