Paw Tracks In The Moonlight Author talks cats

Denis O'Connor, author of Paw Tracks In The Moonlight, wrote his bestseller about a kitten named Toby Jug which he rescued from the snow. After Toby Jug's death, Denis was reluctant to get another cat but has recently shared the story of Carlos, another cat who came along, changed his mind and then broke his heart.

Carlos was in the care of a pedigree cat-breeder, and was a trouble maker from the start, leaping at his brothers and making himself ill. The breeder was desperate to get rid of the kitten and when Denis spotted how much life and intelligence the cat possessed he had to take him home. Described as a fluffy ball of silver fur with minute pointed ears and piercing blue eyes, so Denis and his Wife took him home to their cottage in Northumberland.

By the end of the first night home Catherine, Denis' Wife, after spending hours attempting to calm the scampering Carlos proclaimed "I can't deal with this Kitten. He's completely out of control."

Catherine is an experienced education professional in the field of disruptive and deviant behavior, so those words caused alarm bells for Denis.

To check what she could possibly mean Denis went upstairs to where the cat was in their room to find already he had ripped the plush velvet headboard of the bed, torn at the cotton pillowcases, raced the walls scratching the expensive embossed wallpaper and leaped into the curtains tearing them to shreds.

With the threat of having to give up the cat, Denis shut him out in the garden to hopefully teach a lesson.

It was that night Denis thought back to Toby Jug, the cat he had saved from the snow, who he had spent 12 years of his life with, doing everything together. Toby Jug would follow Denis like a dog, go in his saddlebag on holiday bike rides and accompany him in a harness on some occasions. After his death, aged 12, Denis was so distraught he sold the old owl cottage he lived in, unable to bear living there without Toby.

But as the years passed, and unable to take on another kitten as a replacement, three things happened to change his mind. Marrying Catherine, retiring two years after and then discovering the Owl Cottage for sale. As soon as he saw it his heart missed a beat, the cottage was in a pitiful state, neglected both inside and out. And so Denis returned to live in the cottage, however something was missing and he knew it would never truly be home without a cat.

So, a full 20 years after the death of Toby Jug, the couple had bought their first pedigree Maine Coon kitten, Pablo. As Pablo matured he became quiet and withdrawn, making Denis conclude he needed a playmate. Enter Carlos, the kitten who brought chaos to the couples lives.

The following morning Carlos had met Pablo, and despite being spat at by the older cat and unwanted, Carlos overcame the aloofness by simply cuddling up and refusing to budge. After Denis recieved his breakfast, bacon and eggs from his wife, the new cat had his own plans, leaping up and stealing the bacon for himself. Enough was enough for Catherine and she demanded the cat visit the vet for advice.

Unluckily after arriving at the vet the cat escape the cage through the open door and was in hot persuit of Denis and the vetinary staff. The havoc caused from Carlos escape resulted in vet not giving any advice and insisting instead that Denis and Carlos leave.

Struggling for ideas Denis decided to take Carlos to wild places in order to make him feel vulnerable, perhaps even overwhelmed and therefor more malleable to training.

The next morning taking Carlos to the coast and walking along the beach, cat in harness, he seemed to be whining and on the verge of a breakthrough. However a nearby rockpool soon changed his mind as he dunked his head in and pulled out a crab. Worried Carlos would have drank some of the sea water Denis went back to the car, and rather than driving the entire way home, went to a nearby hotel with a log fire, physically and emotionally drained.

When the pair finally got home, Carlos seemed to want to make it up to Denis, licking his face and falling asleep, head tucked under his owners chin.

Over time, visiting various locations, Carlos learned to walk on his lead, buth is high spirits still got him into trouble. After occasions where Carlos would seem intimidated by other animals or the bigger world, Denis would be convinced he was learning, but each time after the cat would bounce back proving he hadn't learned a thing outdoors.

However back home, Carlos would stick to Denis like glue, watching his every move.

One night, just before christmas, Carlos was back to his old tricks. The snow was falling earnest and Carlos was nowhere to be seen. At midnight that night, Denis caught the sound of a high-pitched wail coming from overhead. A piercing note of desperation. He knew it was Carlos. Unable to locate the sound, Denis was searching, until eventually he spotted his cat, a forlorn snow covered figure marooned on the ledge of his neighbours tall chimney stack.

Unable to lure him down Catherine insisted they go indoors before the pair would catch pneumonia. The couple barely slept that night, knowing Carlos was outside in the cold. But at 6am, as soon as their front door was opened, a small grey and silver body shot inside. Carlos had bolted in, cold and hungry but unharmed.

Carlos's behavior was improving, although he never learned to think before he leapt. In the period of relative calm at Owl Cottage, Denis thought that the future would prove tranquil and uneventful.

One sunny Saturday morning, the couple left for some shopping and have lunch, but upon returning home had a note from their neighbour requesting them to visit. It seemed urgent and Denis went round. Julie, their neighbour, explained they had found the body of a cat hit by a car and hoped it wasn't theirs.

Denis's heart sank when he saw it was Carlos. He cradled his body to his chest and took him to his greenhouse. There he wrapped Carlos in one of his fleeces and began to dig his grave. Denis was in tears, and Pablo also was making hollow-sounding yowls.

Afterwards, Pablo whimpered and pawed the grass above the grave.

Denis stayed outside beside the grave that night until dawn, despite Catherine trying to bring him in. Denis felt that he couldn't leave Carlos abandoned in the cold ground and the darkness, and that as long as he was near, his spirit would feel comfort.

The death of Carlos had a similar effect on Denis to that of when Toby Jug had died. Carlos had only lived for one year and six days but he'd left an unforettable legacy of high spirits and humorous affection.

In time, it dawned on Denis he needed to fill the gap Carlos had left, but not with just any cat, it had to be from the same parents as Carlos. Suddenly, full of hope of the memory of Carlos, Denis picked up the phone and called the cat breeder......

Source: Personal adaptation of Denis's own words "Paw Tracks At Owl Cottage". Adaptation featured in the Daily Mail, October 23, 2010.

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