Denis was raised in Northumberland where woods and riverbanks became his salvation, his escape from a brutal, unloving father. Verbal abuse or physical abuse would each be bad enough but the young Denis suffered them both with no real defense by his mother. He found loving people in his grandmother and a couple who owned a nearby farm.
What really saved him were the animals in his life. He found a way to communicate and work with his neighbor's aggressive dog, he gentled an untamed horse who had a similar background of abuse, a white cat that he had to say was his mother's in order to keep it. And worst of all, his beloved dog was put down by his father. Why? Because Denis loved the dog and the dog loved him.
O'Connor describes his childhood and surroundings in clear and vivid detail, including the enchantment of nature and how it came to mean so much to him. While many would not survive such a childhood, O'Connor was determined to better his life and get away from his father, the father who could never be proud of him. He knew that freedom would come through education and so he worked exceptionally hard to assure that he would go to university.
Paw Tracks is not a very lengthy book, only 214 pages that seem to fly as one moves along through Denis O'Connor's childhood and it leaves the reader wanting more.