A snowy January night. A cat that beat the odds. A man whose life would be forever changed. This is the remarkable story of Toby Jug, the extraordinary cat who thought he was human.
Paw Prints in the Moonlight is the truly special tale of one kind man and the cat that changed his life. Set in the rural splendor of Northumberland, England, this heartwarming and classic book will be cherished by people of all ages.
When Denis O'Connor rescues a three-week-old kitten from certain death during a snowstorm, little does he know how this tiny creature will change his life forever. Against all odds the kitten-whom he names Toby Jug-survives and turns out to be a wondrous Maine Coon Cat extraordinaire. Life with Toby is never dull, and Denis and Toby embark on a series of sometimes comical, sometimes poignant adventures that bring them ever closer together. From the massive invasion of bees at Owl Cottage to the mysterious case of the disappearing tomatoes, Denis and Toby form an extraordinary bond, and the cat that no one thought would live through the night ends up altering the lives of everyone he meets.
With spectacular watercolor illustrations depicting Toby's many hijinks, this timeless story about the power of pets will captivate readers of Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, and Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love.
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DENIS O'CONNOR was born and raised in England. After retiring from a career as a psychologist, he decided to write Paw Prints in the Moonlight, fulfilling the promise he made to Toby Jug years ago. Paw Prints in the Moonlight has been translated into Japanese, Italian, and Chinese. O'Connor lives in an 18th century cottage with his wife Catherine and two Maine Coon Cats named Luis and Max. When he's not writing, he spends his time gardening, bird watching, and listening to classical music.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Paw Prints in the Moonlight
WINTER: THE RESCUE The icy January storm wailed through the crannies and spouts of the large old house as I stared at the scrubbed wooden table in the clinic of the vet, Scott Mackenzie. On the table lay a tragic sight. The silver-coloured she-cat was still bleeding, her flanks heaving with the desperate effort to stay alive. Next to her lay the barely living bodies of her two kittens. With immense difficulty I had rescued them and rushed them here for help. 'There'll be nothing I can be doing for any of them. They're all goners!' he said, with professional finality. His Scottish brogue was oddly comforting in that sterile, clinical atmosphere. His examination had been short but thorough. I could see expressed in the eyes of Mac the Vet the professional conclusion that saving these cats was beyond the scope and skills of modern veterinary science. 'They're past hope, laddie,' he intoned gently, perhaps fearful of my reaction. I winced at his words, not wanting to believe him as I gazed once more at the threesome lying before me on the table. Mac was right, of course, his expertise was beyond question. From appearances nothing humanely could bedone for these creatures other than a swift and painless death but I had stubbornly clung on to the hope that somehow they could be saved. In my optimism I had imagined that Mac could work a miracle and restore them to health. Then I would take the whole family home with me. I lived alone and, although I had a demanding professional life, I had long toyed with the idea of having a pet, but had never got around to acquiring one. As I looked at them again, the small hope I'd nursed started to die. They did appear to be beyond help. The she-cat was obviously too far gone to save. I imagined that her scrawny body had once been beautiful, with its silver-grey fur and elegant tail, but she was drifting helplessly in and out of consciousness as she struggled to survive. 'She'll have to be put down,' Mac said in his no-nonsense manner. 'And it would be a mercy for the kittens to go as well,' he concluded. 'They're far too young to fend for themselves even if they survive.' He left the room with the mother, intent on doing what had to be done. While he was away, I looked down at the two kittens. Both of them were male, 'Tommies' as Mac called them. One was coloured smoky blue-grey and the other was black, with minute white markings. Neither was any bigger than a shrew. Sorrowfully, I reached down to touch them, simply as a gesture of compassion. There was no warmth nor any other sign of life in the grey kitten's bodybut when my fingers stroked the black-and-white kitten he stirred ever so slightly and I thought I heard a faint sigh. Suddenly, the kitten moved, curling its tiny body as if to cuddle up to the warmth of my hand. Startled, I looked down again at this little waif. It had certainly moved but I didn't know whether this was because it was in the throes of death or not. I found myself becoming very angry. 'Cats are very special creatures. It's grossly unfair that things like this should be allowed to happen,' I said to myself, overcome by the strength of my feelings. I recalled long-forgotten incidents and experiences that years spent as a city-dweller had all but obliterated. The simple reaction of the kitten to the warmth of my hand revived a memory of myself as a small boy who naively believed that his love for animals, birds, flowers and trees would somehow serve to protect them. I'd thought that by cherishing 'Nature' in all its forms I could conserve it. I had not thought about such things for many years but, lately, these childhood feelings had started to resurface, inspired no doubt by my rural surroundings. Images from the past flooded my mind as, with my finger and thumb, I gently stroked the body of the black kitten and waited for the vet to return. Best remembered were the days of my childhood spent in the woods and fields by the River Derwent and at the lake at Axwell ParkEstate where I was born. Out of nowhere came the memory of the hurt I felt when I fell out with my best friend, Billy Morrison, as we explored Winlaton Woods because he wanted to take some eggs from a blue-tit's nest we'd found in a hollowed oak tree and I wouldn't let him. I also recalled the shock one Sunday morning of finding a mallard duck flapping about in the meadow grass with half her wing shot away by the irresponsible hunters out for a morning's 'sport'. Like the poet Wordsworth, I had always loved nature and now, at twenty-nine years of age, living a bachelor existence and working in a country market town, these feelings were crystallizing into what was becoming a devotion to the wild creatures and landscapes of Northumberland. It was 1966 and I had been given the opportunity to work as a lecturer in Educational Studies at Alnwick College of Education in Northumberland. Consequently, I had bought Owl Cottage, an eighteenth-century stone building which stood on a hillside above the River Coquet, with uninterrupted views across the village of Felton towards the distant Cheviot Hills. This was to be a new beginning, the fulfilment of a dream. In the past cats had always been a part of my life and the households of my childhood and youth were never without at least one cat. I loved them all, not least for their dignified and independent natures. Every one of them had been a friend and playmate and every one of themwas special. Cats have always fascinated me because they are so mysterious and difficult to analyse in spite of their domesticity. I knew that cats probably first became domesticated in Ancient Egypt, about 15,000 years ago. For a time cats were even adored as representatives of gods, and their images were sculpted in precious metals encrusted with jewels. Once, on a working trip to Trinity College, Dublin, I was intrigued to find an illustration of a cat in the historic Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript made by the monks on the island of Iona in the eighth or ninth century. Fascinated by this reference I bought a replica bronze statuette of the cat. On the back of the statuette I found the following inscription: 'Cats are both homely and mysterious. They walk silently, mate noisily, they rid us of pests. Their eyes shine in the dark and their pupils change as the moon, from round to crescent. They are sacred to the Moon-goddess and familiars of the feminine.' For me, cats have always been more than just domesticated animals. They have the 'Call of the Wild', which makes them forsake the comfort of their home from time to time to prowl and hunt, preferably in the fields and woods, but also in our gardens, streets and parks. These characteristics fascinate people across the world to the extent that, for many, keeping cats as pets becomes an addiction. With these thoughts and sentiments running through myhead I suddenly felt an urge, almost an obligation, to do something even if it seemed reckless as well as hopeless. At this point Mac, having don*e his deed of mercy with the grey tabby, returned to deal similarly with the two kittens. On a sudden impulse, and to Mac's utter consternation, I scooped up the black-and-white kitten from the table and deposited him carefully into the pocket of my sheepskin jacket. 'You're a sentimental fool,' he said sternly, shocked by my action. 'The wee thing will suffer and die no matter what you do.' 'Well,' I replied, 'he might just as well die in front of my fire as anywhere else. Please send me the bill.' With these hurried words of farewell I left an incredulous Mac shaking his head. His words rang in my ears. 'Sentimental fool,' he'd said. How well I recalled the many times those words had been directed towards me, even by my own father, because of my passionate feelings for wildlife. Struggling with these emotions, I drove slowly home on the snow-packed roads and reflected on the harrowing events of the day.
The trip to the vet had followed what began as a normal, dull, grey January day. As I arrived home from work and got out of the car, I felt a heaviness in the air. Living in the country away from the enclosed life of the city had made me far more aware of changes in the weather. By noting howthe sky looked, the direction and strength of the wind, as well as the behaviour of birds and animals, my more experienced eye could forecast fairly accurately if any major changes in the weather were on the way. 'It will snow tonight,' a neighbour remarked as he walked his dog along the footpath past my drive. 'Looks like a storm's coming,' I called back. He smiled and nodded in reply as he was tugged along by Butch, his massive black Labrador. Later, when it did snow, it was heavier than either of us expected. After closing the garage doors I paused by the tall cypress tree to watch the flocks of crows wheeling noisily over their rookery, having returned from marauding the local fields. I loved to watch the sky at this time of day when the soft gentle light of evening slowly gave way to darkness. Sometimes there would be such a subtle toning of colours that the landscape looked like a Turner painting. Alone in my garden at such a moment I could indulge the thought that this was a private viewing for my eyes only. On other days, the colours of sunset would be so boldly red, orange and yellow that they mesmerized me with their beauty. I often reflected that I never had enough time just to watch and appreciate the sky. Tonight, though, there was no sunset - only overcast clouds that gave off a half-light. As I dawdled, the air all around grew still and became electric. I stood spellbound, aware that something eventfulwas about to happen. Then it began to grow darker and I felt a sudden chill. Snow started to fall silently, driving the chaffinches and blackbirds from the bird-table to seek sanctuary in the hedges that fringed the wood at the end of my garden. Despite the cold, I stayed there for a few more moments, witnessing the first snowfall of winter. Suddenly, the tranquil scene changed dramatically and I was nearly swept off my feet by sudden gusts of wind that turned the shower into a blizzard. Covered in huge flakes of snow and numbed with cold, I hastily made for the patio door of the cottage. Once inside, I felt besieged by the storm which was growing stronger by the minute. It rattled the back door and covered the window panes with pale shutters of snow. I shed my overcoat, brushing it free of snowflakes, and hung it to dry in the narrow hall. The sounds of the gale outside grew wilder but this only added to my feelings of safety and comfort inside the cottage. It was Friday and the weekend beckoned with its promise of rest and recreation. Icy draughts from the doors and windows swept around me but failed to dampen my good spirits as I put a match to the log fire and lit the candles around the sitting room. After a hot meal of grilled steak and fried potatoes, I settled down by the fireside with a book and a glass of wine for an evening of homely bliss. I was as yet unaware of the coming turn of events that would shatter my relaxation and change my life for many years to come. The mellow chimes of the French clock striking seven awoke me from an armchair snooze. By this time the storm had moved on and I became aware of an all-pervading stillness. The fire had burned down to roasting hot embers that warmed me right through to my toes and my armchair was, at that moment, the most comfortable place in the whole world. But the particular quiet that comes after a storm is alluring and I couldn't resist the temptation to look outside and sample the night air. The view from my back doorway was bleak but breathtaking. The windblown snow had transformed the familiar scene into a wilderness of pure white. It felt bitterly cold and the air tasted dry and frosted like chilled wine. The sky had cleared and a full moon shone starkly down from a black background of shimmering stars unlike anything I ever saw in the polluted skies of the cities where I had lived for so many years. It thrilled me to imagine again that perhaps I was a solitary witness to this splendour. As far as I could see from my back door, none of my neighbours were sharing the beauty of this night. It was a Christmas-card scene so captivating that it held me there until I realized I was slowly beginning to freeze. I moved to return indoors. Suddenly, the silence was pierced by the scream of an animal. It was a strident cry of pain, totally shattering the stillness that had followed the heavy snowfall. It was frightening and terrible to hear and in the midst of all the beautyaround me it seemed so unreal. I felt as if every sense in my body was switched to full alert. Shocked and alarmed, I strained to find out where it came from. Then I heard it again, a howl full of agony and distress. It sounded close by but I could see nothing. It came again and yet again. This time I thought I knew roughly the location it was coming from. Moving out to get a better view I found myself having to wade through powdery snowdrifts, slipping and sliding in my haste. In spite of shivering in the intense cold I pressed on without a thought for my inadequate clothing. I didn't have a coat on and I was only wearing my carpet slippers. Eventually, I reached the outskirts of the wood that led to Blackbrook Farm. Something squirmed in the snow ahead and wailed with the torment of moving. A silver-grey cat lay twisting and turning in a gin-trap which held it fast by the hind leg. As I approached, the cat's struggles to escape became frenzied and I saw that the snow around it was heavily bloodstained. Shocked and distressed by the sight, I had to find a way to release it, but that proved far from easy. Demented by its injuries and panicked by my presence, it hindered my well-intentioned efforts with a fit of spitting and clawing. Scrambling about on my hands and knees in the snow, I eventually succeeded in prising open the jaws of the rusty trap which had bitten deeply into its leg. To my surprise, despite its severe wounds, the cat took off at highspeed through the snow and was quickly gone from sight. Breathless with exertion and badly scratched and bitten about the hands and arms, I struggled to find a footing on the frozen ground but managed to raise myself up. Still reeling from the shock of this sudden and unexpected experience, at first I didn't know what I should do, if anything. Where had the cat gone? Had it simply headed for the nearest cover? Was it now lying under some fir tree, racked with pain? Cold and wet, I decided to return to the cottage for comfort and medication, as well as time to think. A welcome glass of brandy, some first aid and a roasting in front of the revived log fire did much to restore my spirits. As I thawed out I reviewed the situation. Thinking about what I had seen started to vex me. It was worrying to think about the injured cat and how desperately it needed help. 'I can't just leave things like that,' I said to myself aloud, but it wasn't really any business of mine. Perhaps I should leave it alone. After all, it was getting late and I was tired. Also, it wasn't the weather to go tramping around looking for an injured animal and either a fox or farm dog would most probably have got to it already. Even if the cat survived until daylight, the carrion crows, nature's scavengers, would soon dispatch it and that would be the end of it. Still, I had spent a childhood living with cats and I had a great fondness for them. It was an irritating dilemmafor me but after only a short tussle my conscience won the day and I resolved to try to track and find the cat. What I would do then was a matter for future consideration. Quickly fortifying myself with my sheepskin jacket, the thickest gloves I could find and Wellington boots, I armed my...
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