BOOKS: Paw Prints at Owl Cottage
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2013:
Paw Prints at Owl Cottage
by Denis O’Connor
St. Martin’s Press (c/o MacMillan, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
232 pages, hardcover. $19.99.
Denis O’Connor, retired from a career in academia,
established himself as an author of best-selling cat stories in the
United Kingdom first, with Paw Tracks in the Moonlight (2009), about
his rescued cat Toby Jug, who died in 1978, and then Paw Tracks at Owl
Cottage, concerning the cats O’Connor and his wife have kept since
reacquiring the house where O’Connor lived with Toby Jug.
Substituting the word “prints” for “tracks” in the
titles, O’Connor brought his first cat story to the U.S. successfully
in 2012, and, as in the U.K., now follows with the sequel.
From a humane perspective, unfortunately, O’Connor’s
growing popularity may be viewed with alarm.
Paw Prints at Owl Cottage bills itself in a cover blurb as “four
kittens, a crumbling English cottage, one touching tale of life in
the British countryside.” The four kittens are all purebred Maine
coons purchased from a well-known breeder. O’Connor writes with joy
and affection of the cats––Pablo, Max, Luis and Carlos––and
devotedly provides them with love, food, veterinary care, and
grooming, which longhaired Maine coons tend to need more than most
However, O’Connor balked at neutering the first of his cats,
the free-roaming Pablo. “I hated to do that to him,” O’Connor
says. Undoubtedly Pablo contributed to creating unwanted litters. But
when O’Connor added to his feline family he never considered adopting
a homeless half-Maine coon from a shelter or cat rescue society.
Carlos, O’Connor’s second Maine coon, was neutered and
micro-chipped, but was also allowed to wander. A neighbor found
Carlos’ roadkilled remains a week after he disappeared.
After that, O’Connor built a protective enclosure for his
other cats, enabling them to enjoy the outdoors without roaming.
The cat stories in Paw Prints at Owl Cottage are delightful,
and the book illuminates the special bond between O’Connor and his
cats, but O’Connor is so slow to learn responsible cat caretaking,
and so ambivalent about the lessons that the book cannot be said to have
much instructive value. ––Debra J. White