“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 done 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.”
So begins the amazing story of Toby Jug the Maine Coon by Denis O’Connor. Pawprints in the Moonlight is set in 1966, when the author, Denis O’Connor, was living in the English countryside in Northumberland as a 29 year old college professor. On a cold winter’s night, he comes upon a cat caught in a hunter’s trap. He rescues the cat who darts off into the night. Driven by a desire to help the cat, he follows her pawprints through the cold to a barn, where he sees the poor injured thing trying to care for two kittens. He rushes the trio to a local vet, where the mother and one kitten sadly pass on.
With little hope, he takes the remaining kitten whose eyes are not even yet open, back to Owl Cottage where he lives to try to nurse him back to health against all odds and with little available to assist him. What happens is a true miracle: the kitten not only survives, but begins to thrive under the loving care of his new owner.
As the kitten gains strength, he proves himself quite curious and having a lust for life, even as precarious as his situation proves to be. To keep him safe, Denis finds a glass jug which he pads with cotton to allow the kitten to be near him and see everything that’s going on. This in part helps give the kitten a name: Toby Jug.
The book tells of all of Toby Jug’s many adventures with his owner, including stolen garden tomatoes, misty evening walks, and a lovely camping trip! But the real beauty of this book about a charming, inquisitive little animal is the relationship it explores between owner and cat. So many of us feel a deep bond with our cats, one that goes beyond just owner and pet. Our cats are very special to us, and each cat develops its own unique personality. Every moment in the book will not only be relatable to any cat owner, but every question the author poses to himself in reflection of all of Toby Jug’s escapades, like “who is the master, and and who is the slave?” are questions we all wonder with regard to our cats when we are faced with moments of intensity: when kitty gets lost, or sick, or into trouble, and we face that fear of life without them.
The book also explores the life of a cat itself in relationship to domestication. While Toby Jug’s playfulness, love, affection, and life inside the home and the back garden of Denis’s cottage are wonderful and clearly bring Toby Jug great pleasure, there are also moments where Toby Jug’s animal instincts come into play. The author often must ask himself to reconcile his desire to keep Toby Jug safe and happy, while also conceding to Toby’s independence and natural instincts. These are things I have to face myself as a cat owner who lets her kitties play outside. There are times of course when my cats get themselves in trouble (like when Pickles was stuck very, very high in a tree for two days and was only rescued via a basket-pulley rig), but the sheer joy they experience by being allowed to roam the small patch of woods behind our house, or the pride they show when they bring home a small catch is something I can’t bring myself to deny them in spite of the worry it sometimes causes me.
This book is true gem for any cat lover, especially those who have in fact rescued a cat, whether the circumstance was as harrowing as the author’s or not. Seeing a cat who had no chance become a lively, loving addition to your home is always exceptionally rewarding. The story of Toby Jug’s life and experiences is truly heartwarming. The prose is beautifully written, and the book is the perfect length to curl up and read with your kitty in your lap on a cold night. I couldn’t put it down!
Even more perfect, the book is available for a steal in hardcover at Bares and Noble at $12.00, and electronically via Nook for just $9.99.
You will love this book. The story brought a tear to my eye while still giving me the warm feeling that only we cat people can understand. Get yourself a copy and let me know what you think in the comments when you’ve read it. ;3