Yorkshire veterinarian James Alfred Wight, better known to his readers as James Herriot, long delighted animal lovers of all ages with his heartwarming stories of his most interesting, inspiring, and sometimes simply mysterious cases. I grew up reading about and falling in love with the dogs, cats, horses, and numerous other animals he treated and immortalized in writing. He had a knack for storytelling that makes his tales lively, engaging, and easy to follow. Many mourned his passing in 1995, at the age of 78.
This short collection of stories concerns Herriot's favorite animal, the cat. In his introduction, he reminisces on his choice to become a vet, inspired by his love for cats, and how he soon found that, at the time, there were very few veterinary texts on the species and few veterinarians that practiced on them. Cats were only beginning to be treated as pets and companions rather than simply a replaceable implement to catch barn mice. This, of course, changed over the course of Herriot's career, and though he primarily treated livestock animals he was often called upon to tend to the village's feline population as well.
The stories here are some of the cream of the crop of Herriot's writing. First we meet Alfred, the large tom who was a daily fixture in the Yorkshire village's most successful confectionery, and then Oscar, the remarkable cat that attended all manner of meetings and social gatherings in town. Next we are introduced to Boris, an ornery and strong-willed individual who isn't afraid to give Mr. Herriot a piece of his mind.
The fourth story brings us to Olly and Ginny, two stray siblings that adopt Herriot and his wife, and actually appear in three of the book's stories. Spaced throughout the book, they actually take on a status as a sort of centerpiece. Undeniably feral, the two are stricly outdoor cats, and it's all Herriot can do to trick them into allowing his occasional veterinary ministations. And they, Olly in particular, clearly express their displeasure. They won't let the well-meaning vet anywhere near them if they can help it. Herriot makes it his mission to win them over, and takes over the job of feeding them every morning in hopes of gaining their trust and respect. He finally manages to befriend Olly, briefly, before tragedy strikes. Happily though, a sad loss leads the vet to share an even closer bond with Olly's sister, Ginny.
The other stories concern Emily, the beloved companion of a kindly, solitary man; Moses, a tiny black kitten found among the rushes one icy winter day, and who is ultimately adopted by the strangest of surrogate mothers, a laid-back and accepting sow; Frisk, the cat who has mysterious, recurring, rapidly-developing episodes of coma that vanish almost as quickly as they happen; and finally Buster, the Christmas Day gift from a dying mother who delights his new owner amazing dog-like antics.
With ten heatwarming feline tales (or tails, if you prefer), this book is a sure winner for any cat lover. If you're already familiar with Herriot's work, you won't be disappointed (you may even have come across a couple of these stories before), and if he is a new author to you, you may very well go on to seek out his other books. My one teensy-tiny criticism is the the editting could have been just a little bit better. It wouldn't even really be a problem except for the fact that, in one story, a cat is once inexplicably referred to with the wrong name. Other than this the book is perfect. The illustrations are beautiful and the stories delightful. A perfect read for a cozy evening by the fireside.
And if you like this, I recommend his other short-story anthologies: "All Thing Bright and Beautiful," "All Creatures Great and Small," "All Things Wise and Wonderful," "The Lord God Made Them All," and "Every Living Thing" (these titles are based on a poem with the same title as the last book), as well as "James Herriot's Dog Stories." He also wrote a variety of very nice short children's books.