The ideal book for fans of All Creatures Great and Small, this sweet and touching tale about the power of pets will touch the hearts of all who read it
Readers who fondly recall James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small will applaud the second coming of this beloved author in Denis O'Connor, who charmed cat lovers everywhere with Paw Prints in the Moonlight. Now, in Paw Prints at Owl Cottage, O'Connor returns with another heartwarming and timeless tale of the power of pets.
When Denis and his wife Catherine return to Owl Cottage, their former home, only to find it in a dilapidated state, they decide to restore this charming house. But the memory of Denis's beloved cat, Toby Jug, still lingers on. On impulse he buys a Maine Coon Kitten, Pablo, who proves to be such a wonderful companion that he decides to buy three more and names them Carlos, Luis, and Max. Set against the wilds of the Northumbrian coast, Denis tenderly and humorously charts the ups and downs of life with his mischievous cats in this warm and touching tale.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
DENIS O'CONNOR lectured in colleges and universities. Now retired, he lives with his wife Catherine and his two Maine Coon cats in a remote country cottage in Northumberland. He is the author of Paw Prints in the Moonlight.
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Paw Prints At Owl Cottage
The Heartwarming True Story Of One Man And His Cats
By Denis O'Connor
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Denis O'Connor
All rights reserved.
My extraordinary life with Toby Jug, the hybrid Maine Coon cat whose companionship and love gave me such happiness during my twenties and thirties, sadly came to an end in 1978 when he tragically died. We had enjoyed life together since I had rescued him as a tiny, sick kitten lying alongside his dying mother and brother. Owl Cottage, with its beautiful garden and rural setting, became our refuge and sanctuary over the eventful years we shared together. After his death the poignant memories of him were too sorrowful for me to carry on living there.
In 1980 I moved to Newcastle where I already had been appointed to a lectureship at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Later I worked at Durham University tutoring students in Educational Studies until I retired in 2000. In 1998 Catherine and I were married and since we were both contemplating early retirement we began to look for properties in rural areas because of our attachment to North Northumberland. Fate took us in hand and I was able once more, with Catherine at my side, to return to Owl Cottage and revisit the home where in my younger life I had spent such happy and memorable years with the cat called Toby Jug, whose adventures inspired Paw Tracks in the Moonlight.
Returning to live in Owl Cottage at West Thirston was for me the consummation of many years of longing to escape the city for life once more in the countryside. West Thirston is one of a group of hamlets, extending eastwards to the town of Amble and the North Sea, which lie astride a rocky ridge above the River Coquet. Owl Cottage is built on a site adjoining a minor road which leads westwards to Linden Hall, Rothbury and beyond. No doubt the area occupied by the cottage has witnessed many habitations throughout the ages but the present structure is built almost entirely of stone and dates from around the middle of the nineteenth century. The front of the cottage runs parallel to the road, leaving the back, which faces south, secluded and private.
The garden is extensive and comprises over fifty trees of various kinds including oak, beech, whitebeam and birch. There is also a small orchard of apple, pear, plum and nut trees, and a meandering swathe of grass bordered by flowering shrubs and flower beds, giving an overall effect of a woodland glade. Wildlife is welcome here and thrives in the pesticide-free environment. My wife Catherine and I refer to the garden as our 'Shangri-La' because of its beauteous tranquillity and natural appeal. There are stories from local folk who say that it is enchanted and inhabited by fairies, although we cannot confirm this from our own experience. Yet on summer nights, whilst songbirds are singing their songs and slanting sunbeams create green-grassed areas of golden meadow, there is an enraptured feeling about the garden at Owl Cottage.
It is certainly a wonderful place for cats and has been much loved by them, not least by our four Maine Coon cats respectively named, according to age, Pablo, Carlos, Luis and Max. These special and affectionate cats comprise our family and their unique and fascinating personalities and activities form the basis of this true to life account of our lives together with them at Owl Cottage. In many respects this book is the continuation of the story that began in Paw Tracks in the Moonlight because returning to the cottage and describing the adventures of our present cat family have revived the memory of some additional tales of the legendary hero of Owl Cottage. After all, Toby Jug's spirit endures in every tree and stone there.CHAPTER 2
Pablo was the first kitten to live in Owl Cottage since the death of Toby Jug and we welcomed him, quite literally, with open arms. He was a pedigree Maine Coon. In appearance he was surprisingly large for such a young kitten, with a pointed face and extra large ears. His front paws were enormous and he had a long fluffy tail. His eyes were golden brown and his coat a cinnamon colour like oak leaves in autumn, with some darker markings which would become more distinctive and elaborate as he matured. Pablo had the build and markings of his ancestor, the Norwegian Forest cat.
On his birth cum pedigree certificate he was formally named Pablo Picatsso, son of Billyboyblue and Huffenpuff, and was officially designated a brown tabby. He was born in October 1999 and given to me as a present by Catherine, my wife, who had lived at Owl Cottage with me since we had bought it in 1998. Pablo proved to be a wonderful cat, affectionate and lovable, and he provided us with many fascinating insights into cat behaviour. But perhaps first I should relate how it happened that we acquired Pablo in the first place and how I and Catherine came to be living once more at Owl Cottage. Despite my earlier protestations – at the time deeply felt and firmly held – at long last I had returned to the home where Toby Jug and I had been so happy in the past.
It all began in the spring of 1997 when Catherine and I decided to take a holiday in the north of Crete. One beautiful sun-filled morning, as we sat on the veranda of our apartment looking out over the azure blue Mediterranean, we heard a cat calling. It was not a distress call, just the kind of cat-talk that some felines make when they see something interesting or wish to express their feelings. I looked over the grey rocks and scrub that extended away from the holiday chalets. In the distance was the mountain known locally as Zorba's Rock, which reputedly was the location for the famous Greek dance sequence performed by Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek.
Suddenly, I spotted a small figure scurrying straight towards us. In a moment a neat and very petite charcoal-grey, short-haired she-cat introduced herself to us. She was obviously accustomed to people, since she immediately commenced purring and brushed herself against us in the most affectionate manner. I realized at once that she was focused on an agenda which was meant to manipulate us. No doubt she was in the habit of exploiting the charity of kind-hearted holiday-makers. This greeting display by the cat undoubtedly served her purpose which was to remind us of our obligations as hosts. And so it was that a late breakfast of corned beef and boiled ham was served up to her and very well received. I admired her social skills and wondered just how many other tourists had fallen under her spell and been cajoled into offering handouts.
My assumptions about her motives were soon confirmed because she came to visit us every day for the rest of our stay and we became quite fond of this dainty little beach cat. Each time we fed her we were, of course, rewarding her friendly behaviour and so, in terms of psychological theory, reinforcing her activities. Likewise she, this clever little cat, was reinforcing my act of feeding her by jumping on my knee and purring her thanks as a reward for me. Cats are great manipulators of humans and our guest cat proved no exception to this rule. She would arrive either mid-morning or teatime and, having been fed, she would linger next to us, sometimes gracing one of our laps as we relaxed and watched the sun go down. For the moment she had adopted us.
I really liked her, but then I always find it hard to resist a friendly cat. Catherine was not so sure. She is concerned about stray cats when we are abroad in case they carry disease. I tend to fuss the cats I meet on our travels and usually they respond well to me, and so I attributed nothing out of the ordinary to our visiting cat and simply enjoyed the contact for what it was worth until something extraordinary happened on the last day of our stay which gave me pause for thought.
Since our flight departure time was at some unearthly hour during the night we spent the early morning packing and then went for one last trip around the north of Crete in our hire car. We drove first to Maleme and the site of the German War Cemetery. We found it to be a peaceful and poignant place covered in an abundance of deep-red wild flowers which outlined the precisely placed granite-grey headstones stretching out of sight in regimented rows. All was kept in perfect order and obviously tended with great care and reverence for those who had given their lives in the Second World War. We then decided we would just about have time to go on to Agios Stefanos for a brief visit before returning to the apartment. We drove south through the countryside to this tiny tenth-century church which is reached by following a narrow track shaded by oak trees. En route Catherine, to her great pleasure, discovered on the bankside a rare white cyclamen for which this place is famous. Cyclamen creticum is found nowhere else in the world. The delicate white flower quivered slightly in the gentle breeze from the sea as we walked by. We were even more pleased we had made the decision to visit the church when we saw its thirteenth-century frescos of the Nativity and Pentecost which were still showing clearly after all this time.
Too soon we had to leave for Chania and make our final preparations for home. This last trip, however, had filled us with special memories of Crete to carry home with us and dwell on at our leisure. We were not back in our apartment until late afternoon and therefore I did not expect to see our feline friend again. But, just as evening was settling in, a frantic scratching at the balcony door roused me from a restful doze. I slid back the door and there she was, anxiously greeting me, tail up and mewing her request for a late supper. After feeding her I sat out on the balcony to keep her company. Together we watched the remains of the day, the last of the deep red sunset over the sea. Soon she showed her gratitude by slipping on to my knee from where she treated me to a resonant purring session. I was at pains to explain to her that I was leaving and would not see her ever again but I would always think of her as a friend. Since I was talking to her in English and the language of her country was Greek I couldn't be sure if she understood me at all, but then I have heard tales of cats having the ability to read minds and I suspect it might be true. As the last glow of the setting sun changed to a darkening pink, she rose and, without a backward glance, disappeared amongst the rocks. I retired inside the apartment to snatch a couple of hours of sleep.
Some few hours later as we prepared to leave I realized that I had left my sunglasses on the balcony. As I opened the glass door and walked on to the balcony I almost trod on something. In the darkness I couldn't at first see what it was. Stooping to retrieve it I was amazed to find myself holding a short length of vine on the end of which was a single, ripe, red tomato. My wife's urgent call for me to hurry up or we'd miss our flight startled me out of a whole range of emotions that suddenly surged through my mind. Covertly I placed the find inside my jacket pocket. Thinking about the incident during our flight home I felt confused and uncertain. What was this about and why had it happened?
On our local walks I had spotted miniature tomato plants in cultivation on the outside walls of some of the houses in the surrounding residential area, but there were none near our holiday apartment. Part of me felt that I had been given a coded message. Had the cat put the tomato there as a goodbye gift? Why a tomato? In the subdued lighting of the aircraft, whilst most of the passengers, including my wife, were sleeping, I carefully retrieved the fruit from my pocket. The little glistening object lay in the palm of my hand, undamaged in any way. It reminded me so much of a tiny red ball. A cat I had known a long time ago had loved to play with red balls and had stolen some tomatoes from a neighbour's greenhouse to supplement his supply. His name, of course, was Toby Jug. I began to conjure up a scenario that this was a message of some kind, the significance of which was about to unfold. Weary with thinking about it I fell asleep with the thought that only time would tell.
One of the most irritating things about returning from holiday is to find the space behind the front door jammed with a bulk of mail, most of it of the junk variety. Searching through the accumulation, a postcard caught my attention. It was from Carol, one of our friends, and it simply said, 'Have you seen that Owl Cottage is up for sale?'
The feeling that raced through me at that moment was electric. Was this a coincidence? Or did it herald tidings of a change in the air? Was this related to the present of a tomato from a cat in Crete? I began to feel that somehow, in a way unclear to me, destiny was nudging me towards a reunion with the past. Such a return was not now out of the question since both Catherine and I were contemplating a move away from Newcastle upon Tyne. With this move in mind, since we both loved the countryside, we had been looking at properties for sale in Northumberland but had not searched the locality where I had previously lived. We discussed the news about my old cottage at length and then decided, on impulse, at least to have a look at the place and agreed to view Owl Cottage as soon as it could be arranged.
Then something else occurred which resonated with everything that was currently happening. One night I dreamed that I was living back at Owl Cottage as it had once been. Everything was extremely vivid and real. I was taking a walk along a path between the River Coquet and a line of oak trees where Toby Jug and I often went during a summer evening. Suddenly, he was there before me looking resplendent and radiant with glossy black-and-white fur and sparkling green eyes. 'There you are!' I exclaimed, almost as if our meeting had been arranged and I was expecting him. He ran to me and greeted me in his familiar fulsome manner by leaping on to my shoulder and rubbing his face and whiskers against my cheeks. After a short while he jumped down and ran a few yards ahead, turned and stopped to face me. Then a voice spoke clearly in my head: 'When can we be together again?' Startled, I realized the question was somehow coming from Toby Jug. Taken aback with surprise I stuttered helplessly to find an answer. 'I don't know.'
Then came the next question: 'Will it be soon?' Feeling the shock of disbelief at what was happening I groped again in my mind for an answer as best I could. 'I don't know when, Toby Jug, but whenever it is it will fill me with joy to be with you again.'
Finally, the voice said, 'I'll be there waiting for you.' And with a flick of his bushy tail he disappeared. I looked around searchingly but he was nowhere to be seen.
When I awoke the dream was fresh in my mind as if it had really happened. The memory of it was so surreal it bothered me all day. I couldn't dismiss the thought that perhaps the dream was somehow related to some of the other things which had recently happened, stirring up reminders of the past. A further consideration was that the dream happened to coincide with the initial launch of my book, Paw Tracks in the Moonlight, and overwhelming feelings of nostalgia at considering a return to Owl Cottage.
The estate agent made an appointment for us to view the cottage. As we drove back to the place that was filled with so many memories for me I could not stop wondering how the cottage had fared without me and Toby Jug. When we arrived and I gazed once more at Owl Cottage my heart missed a beat and floods of emotion and an overwhelming feeling of yearning for what had been swept through my mind.
As soon as Catherine and I stepped into the hallway I was saddened to see how neglected the place had become. Everything was in a pitiful state inside and also outside in the garden. But as we looked around my distress was suddenly lifted by a wave of good vibrations which, as we both recollected later, we felt at about the same time. Intuitively, I could feel the cottage crying out for us to take care of it and make it whole again. It was a cry from an old friend and it touched my heart.
That night in a pub in Newcastle upon Tyne we talked it over and I discovered that Catherine felt as I did and we decided to sleep on it before coming to a decision. The next morning after breakfast we were still both of the same mind and determined to go ahead and make an offer which hopefully would secure Owl Cottage for us.
When at last the sale was completed and I had the keys in my hand it was October and the countryside was bathed in vivid autumnal colours. As I turned the corner into the quiet village lane I stopped the car by the thick wooded copse on the side of the road. Ahead lay Owl Cottage, bathed in bright sunlight. My eyes were drawn to the gate pillar at the entrance to the driveway where a pink floribunda rose I had planted in the 1960s still bloomed robustly. Something had brought me back here – call it nostalgia or just a longing to recapture the sentiments of happy times past. I felt my mind whirling with a multitude of images. For a moment I was overcome with blissful remembrances: I was home again at last.
Excerpted from Paw Prints At Owl Cottage by Denis O'Connor. Copyright © 2010 Denis O'Connor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you have ever shared your life with a cat, then PAW PRINTS AT OWL COTTAGE is a must read. This is the delightful memoir of Denis O’Connor and his devotion to four wondrous Maine Coon cats who shared his life. Each cat, in its own special way, help the author recover from the loss of his beloved cat, Toby Jug. O’Connor and his wife, Catherine, return to Owl Cottage where he had once lived with Toby Jug. While restoring the cottage, O’Connor was filled with memories of his faithful cat. At the suggestion of his wife, O’Connor decides to get another cat to help fill the void. Soon Pablo comes to live with them followed by Carlos, Luis and Max. O’Connor tells how each kitten created their own space in his life, as well as his heart. He tells of their adventures and the impact they made in his life. From a cat lover’s perspective, there will be tears of sorrow and joy found throughout this book. O’Connor beautifully describes how the felines became a part of his family and much more than just pets. His soulful expressions of loss, as well as the jubilation of day-to-day living will ring true for animal lovers, especially those caring for cats. While you may need a box of tissue handy when reading this, you’ll also find yourself laughing at the cats’ antics. Set against the wilds of the Northumbrian coast, PAW PRINTS AT OWL COTTAGE is a story of warmth and love. It’s an amusing and tender look at how cats and humans connect. FTC Full Disclosure - This book was sent to me by the author’s publicist in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Although I gave Denis's first book 5 stars, this one warranted only 2. Not due to his prose, which is always lovely, but for the way he has chosen to raise his cats. There is more to responsible pet ownership than proper feeding, fresh water, lovely outings and leash training. The habit of allowing ones cat to roam at will invites tragedy (as it did in this book), puts wildlife in peril to a cat's natural instincts to hunt, and invites the ire of others who may not appreciate cats prowling about their ptoperties. Not a week passes that I fail to see a dead cat on the roadside, no doubt struck & killed during a nightly foray. In fall it's also radio collared hunting dogs who cross the road with the hunt lust throwing all caution to the wind. Sad. Perhaps if the author's cats had been kept at home, he could have enjoyed them longer.
The jet black tom padded in, dark yellow eyes gleaming in the darkness. His left ear twitched, the white tip standing out from the rest of him.
Ultra laid out ontop of the High-Rock. Her flank was a pure white and she had hazel eyes. <p> &infin UV ה