- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Patricia and James Smith dropped by Shepherd’s Cove hospice center to say goodbye to an old friend. It wasn’t a patient but Squirt the cat, a beloved member of the Hospice of Marshall County family.

Squirt has been the official “comfort cat” at Shepherd’s Cove since 2007. He was only 2 months old and got his name from being the smallest kitten in the litter of seven.

He is retiring because of health problems.

Patricia Smith’s aunt was at Shepherd’s Cove for 10 days in 2008, and she enjoyed the comfort Squirt provided.

“He would come in the door at night and hop up in the chair with me,” she said. “He’d get up under the covers, and we just loved him.”

Like his nickname, he has provided comfort for many patients through the years at Shepherd’s Cove, including Smith’s aunt.

“He has provided comfort to a lot of families,” Susan Sanders, marketing coordinator at Hospice of Marshall County, said.

She said they have no idea why, but Squirt often will sit outside a dying patient’s door. Some patients and family members don’t want him in the room, while others have welcomed his presence, Sanders said.

“We have had tons and tons of people make statements of what a comfort he was to them,” Sanders said.

Patricia Smith said he was such a comfort to her and her aunt, who lost her battle with cancer after 10 days. Smith said she has kept up with him since then. She and her husband stopped by his retirement party Wednesday and brought some pictures she took while they were at Shepherd’s Cove in 2008.

Squirt has a group of dedicated followers, now with about 1,500 friends on Facebook.

“We’re not planning on replacing Squirt,” Sanders said. A nurse from the facility plans to adopt him and care for him in his ailing health.

Sanders said they have no idea why Squirt reacts the way he does with dying patients, but it’s not uncommon for hospice facilities to have resident cats.

A cat named Oscar at a nursing home in Rhode Island seems to have the same sense about death and often alerts staff and family members when someone is nearing death. Some doctors and cat experts believe it has something to do with a cat’s sense of smell.

However, Sanders said Shepherd’s Cove has patients who are there to recuperate. One ailing man a few years ago stayed for care for a few weeks.

She said he lived a few miles away from the Martling Road facility and his cat had run away from home about a month before he went to Shepherd’s Cove. She said the man loved Squirt and was close to the cat in the absence of his own.

Then one day his cat showed up on the patio of the man’s room.

“Cats have some special sense,” she said. “We just don’t understand why these things happen.”

Even though Squirt is loved by many, he isn’t an especially loving cat, Sanders said. Regardless of why he has provided comfort, it has helped many have better days while at Shepherd’s Cove, she said.

“Our whole purpose is to help make sure each day is the best day it can be,” she said. “If that happens, we have done our job.”

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Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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