When I say ‘uninvited guests’ I am not talking about those Algerians who feel it’s their God-given right to just pop in any time of the day or night unannounced. This time I am talking about the four legged or the winged two legged variety. I am not particularly into pets mostly because when I had children, potty training, feeding them and taking them everywhere with me, was as much as I could handle as I know my limitations…and they are many. When I was growing up in the countryside in Ireland we always had cats, usually kittens that appeared in our garden and became pets, but they were never allowed in the house. My dad always made a lovely cosy bed from sacking in the garage and even put a cat flap in the door to keep them safe from any snooping dogs….long before cat-flaps became a la mode. I remember once my mum feeding some little kittens in the back porch using a dropper. But they always went and broke our hearts by getting killed in the busy road in front of our house. Once I was hitching a lift and I passed one of our pets plastered all over the road, and had to explain to the poor misfortunate person who stopped to give me a lift, why I was sobbing my heart out – I was 18 at the time.
We weren’t ensconced in our new home here in Algeria very long when a very good school friend of mine came to visit. Being totally cat-mad she spent a lot of her time out in the back garden enticing all the stray cats in the neighbourhood into our garden, although they didn’t need much enticing. One of them was very heavily pregnant and I threatened my friend that if this cat had kittens in my garden I was going to post them back to her. Our next-door neighbour very kindly made a cosy home for her so that she would have somewhere safe to have her kittens, but she decided, for some reason best known to herself, to have her 3 kittens in our back garden. I didn’t know what to do as I was afraid for her with night coming and the other bigger cats roaming around, but I was afraid to touch her kittens in case she would reject them, so I texted my friend in England who advised me to bring them into the garage – mother and all. This we did and she settled down well with her little ones, not leaving them at all for the first week or two and then only to wander around outside before coming back to sleep with them. She was a Burmese cat with a haughty nature who made it quite clear from the onset that, although she had condescended to give birth in our yard, that was as far as her favour to us went – we treated her and her kittens very well and she, on her part, put up with the occasional rub from us as she walked by. It was an amazing thing to see what a great Mum she was, how well she took care of her kittens to the point of toilet training them, and, needless to say they became dear to our hearts. We worried about what would happen to them when we went to Ireland that year and decided that, as they got bigger, they had to acclimatise to the other cats out the back so that they could become independent. We went on holiday to Ireland leaving them in the good care of our neighbour who promised to feed and keep an eye on them. When we returned after several weeks they were wary of us and obviously learnt that not all humans are….. humane, which was just as well if they were to survive. In Ramadan of that year our neighbour informed us the devastating news that they and a lot of the cats in the neighbourhood had been poisoned, and I remembered my Mum saying that this was why she didn’t like us having cats – because of the heartbreak caused when they inevitably died.
One day I got a message from my cat-mad friend in England to tell me that she had sent me something in the post, but before I could get all excited over this unusual and exciting (in Algeria anyway) prospect she informed me that it was cat-food for the neighbourhood cats! The cats probably all thought they had died and gone to heaven. She said she didn’t want to send us chocolate because she was afraid it would melt, to which I told her we wouldn’t care – we’d eat it off the packet. I told her that, in return, I would send back a smelly gift from the local cats, a threat I never really carried through.