I loved both these books by Denis O’Connor:
Denis O’Connor trained as a psychologist and teacher. Throughout his career he taught in schools and lectured in colleges and universities. He holds a doctorate in education and psychology and is now retired, living with his wife Catherine and his two Maine Coon cats in a remote country cottage in Northumberland.
Paw Tracks in the Moonlight tells the story of how he rescued a kitten during a snowstorm and how kitten survived, despite the vet’s prediction that he wouldn’t. O’Connor lived at Owl Cottage and as he was out at work all day he put the kitten in a jug to keep him safe and named him Toby Jug. This memoir covers the first year of Toby Jug’s life and it’s a remarkable story because this is no ordinary cat (if such a creature exists, that is). He is a Maine Coon cross. He learns to walk on a lead and even goes on a camping trip on horseback during the summer in the Cheviot Hills with O’Connor.
Paw Tracks at Owl Cottage chronicles O’Connor’s experiences with four more cats, all Maine Coons. He had moved from Owl Cottage, unable to face living there after Toby Jug died in 1978, but years later, when he took early retirement, Owl Cottage came up for sale – and he and his wife bought it. it’s a wonderful place for cats and they acquired four – Pablo, Carlos, Luis and Max. The book is divided into sections describing each cat and there are also reminisces of Toby Jug, with more stories of their lives together.
Both contain beautiful descriptions of the Northumberland countryside, most of which I’m familiar with, which made the books even more special for me. Inevitably the death of Toby Jug filled me with sadness, but both books are full of the cats’ personalities and the joy they brought to O’Connor and his wife. They demonstrate the close bonds that are possible between people and cats:
I tell them [his friends who are astonished at the close bonds] I believe that any animal, be it a horse, dog, cat, parrot or budgerigar, will always respond to kindly attention and caring affection, and that I know this because I’ve made good friendships with them all.
But to return to how I am with our cats, I can honestly state that quite apart from loving them deeply and being loved in return, I know them inside their minds and they know me; we are linked on a mental plane of mutual affection and understanding. (page 222 of Paw Tracks at Owl Cottage)
Definitely books for cat lovers!
Denis O’Connor has written a third book (which I haven’t read) – Paw Tracks: a Childhood Memoir, described on Amazon as ‘a searingly honest account of how the power of nature can lift the human spirit and overcome the most unloving of childhoods.’