Garbage Cats

Garbage Cats– that’s what we called them. The women who lived in the housing compounds at King Faisal Hospital and Research Center in the 1980’s called them garbage cats because they lurked around the big green dumpsters positioned along the perimeter of the compound. We’d toss the remains of our dinners into these dumpsters, and the cats would leap into them as soon as we’d toss. They’d dig around for shreds of edible chicken, fish bones, and whatever else a garbage cat could scavenge.

Hospital housing rules forbid the residents from bringing cats into their homes, and when the cat population became noticeably larger, we’d see a truck prowling around with two men and a large net. We never knew whether the cats were put to death, or taken out to the desert and let loose.

Most of us originated from countries in which cats did not run feral or dig in garbage. We liked cats; we knew them as pets, quiet and graceful, worthy of care and a place in the home. 

Naturally, we felt sorry for Saudi cats, and did bring them into our homes whenever they could be coaxed inside. We named them according to their physical characteristics.

A black female with a white patch on her face, became a favorite of my roommate Irene, and was named Blackie, naturally. Irene bought proper cat food for Blackie, and took her to the vet for shots and worm medicine. She was going to have Blackie spayed, but the vet discovered that the cat was already pregnant.

Irene, the consummate cat lover, tried to find homes for the unborn kittens. Blackie grew fatter, and we started to wonder where females cats go to have kittens in Saudi Arabia. We never did find out– one day Blackie did not come home to be fed and cuddled, nor did she come the next day or the next. Irene worried about her, hoped she hadn’t been collected  by the hospital cat-catchers, or fallen under the wheels of a car.

Two weeks passed. “Blackie is sure to have had her kittens by now,” Irene said as we stood outside and looked down the road from where Blackie usually approached.

“Any sign of Blackie?” Irene asked daily, and I said, “No, I’m sorry,” daily.

One weekend morning, we stood at the door, discussing our plans for the evening, when Irene became distracted by a dark spot moving towards us along the road. We both stopped talking and watched. Yes, a cat was approaching, running, not walking. It was a black cat. It carried something in its mouth. It ran fast, between us as we stood at the door, into our home and up the stairs. It was Blackie, but what was she carrying?

We ran upstairs behind her, and found that Blackie had chosen my bedroom from the available three, entered the closet, dropped her bundle in the corner, and ran back out as fast as she had run in. I was afraid she’d brought a dead bird, but she’d brought one of her kittens!

It was a tiny, whiny thing, shaking from weakness, blind because its eyes weren’t open yet, and poking its nose in the air, looking for milk, we were sure. I ran downstairs to get a bowl of milk and a small spoon. As I started up the stairs again, I was nearly tripped by Blackie, who zoomed past me with another bulge in her mouth!

She deposited the second kitten next to the first and ran out as fast as she had run in.

Ten minutes later, she brought her third kitten, and ran back out as fast as she ran in.

We did not see Blackie again for two weeks.

In the meantime, I had to feed those little mewing creatures morning, noon and night, with an eye dropper because they couldn’t even lick from the spoon yet. I put them in a shallow cardboard box with some sand, and had to clean it every day. Then they got mobile and crawled out of the box. Then I told Irene she’d better find homes for those babies quick or I’d turn them out to fend for themselves at the dumpster.

Irene thought I was cruel, but Blackie hadn’t entrusted her with the kittens; she’d entrusted me, and I was stressed. I worked ten hours a day, with a break at noon, which had to be spent running back home under the midday sun to feed them and straighten their box. Those kittens were alone entirely too long for anyone’s good. I could not allow them to live in my closet much longer.

Irene did find three women who agreed to look after a kitten apiece, against hospital housing rules, of course, and I was relieved. Blackie resumed coming and going as usual, but never showed the least shred of interest in her kittens. Irene babied her and resumed buying special cat food for her, and I always wondered why Blackie gave me her kittens. Why did she chose my closet and not Irene’s to make a home for her infants? Why hadn’t she mothered her own kittens?

To this day, it is a mystery. Irene took in other garbage cats, and I adopted a skinny tabby with the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. I named him Jade, of course, and I’ll write his story another time.




About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
This entry was posted in Life, Memoir, Saudi Arabia, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Garbage Cats

  1. Aafke says:

    Haha, what a great story! You know, one could easily illustrate it!
    Clever cat to have picked you!
    Why? To let you do all the hard work of course! And well done too!

  2. iMuslim says:

    What a well told tale of three kitties & a curious mother cat!

    She probably read you somehow. Irene would have pestered her to look after the babies, but she knew you wouldn’t! Plus you were kind hearted enough not to abandon them, and Irene soft enough to keep loving mommy cat in spite of her odd behaviour.

    It says something though that she actually bothered to transfer the kittens to your closet. I mean, if she really didn’t care for them at all wouldn’t she have just left them to perish wherever she delivered them? Or even eaten them! Not sure if cats eat their young, but mice do…

  3. Pingback:   Animals,Business,Music,Uncategorized | Cats are home bodies — Recycle Email

  4. Marahm says:

    Aafke, you are right! That cat knew I wouldn’t neglect her litter, and I’m glad she didn’t bring me the next batch.

    iMuslim, good points! That cat was a psychologist.

    I don’t think cats eat their young normally, as do mice, but maybe they would if they were stressed.

    When I was a girl, I had pet mice. When the mama delivered a brood, we thought, “How cute!” until she started eating them. What a shock. I’ll never forget the sight. We thought she’d stop after one or two, but she devoured the entire lot.

  5. Coolred38 says:

    I had a cat while living out in Hamad Town…a sprawling track house type thing….her name was Julia…she disappeared one day and I searched everywhere for her. I assumed eventually that some kids had either hurt her(kids are pretty bad with animals here) or had taken her home as she was very friendly. About a year later she strolled in my front door…stayed about a month…then disappeared again. I never saw her again after that. I dont know where she had been or if she returned but I was amazed she remembered my house after a whole year.

    Another time during the Gulf War…we had to leave our house suddenly and stay in another part of Bahrain because of scud missles landing out in the waters off Bahrain…my cat (a different one) accidently got locked in one of the rooms in our hurry to leave. When I happened to return a week later to pick up some items I found her in that room tucked away in a cupboard with a litter of kittens. I didnt even know she was pregnant…and it sure made me sad to know she was locked up without food or water after having kittens for a week. She was happy to see me though and didnt harbor any bad feelings…lol.

    Sweet story…sounds like a good childrens story

  6. Marahm says:

    Remarkable anecdotes, Coolred38! Cats are remarkable creatures, as are dogs and all the others, I hasten to say.

    In my experience, cats are not as aloof or cool as their reputation. I’ve known very affectionate cats who would forgive their keepers anything for a cuddle and a morsel. I’m glad your cat and her litter survived their solitary confinement.

  7. Maryam says:

    Oh! I must say that Cat is a sensible one. She left her kitten’s responsibility on the one, who is so warm and caring, which is you Hon .. 🙂
    This post reminded me of my days in Jeddah, where we used to see Millions and Millions of cats everywhere. I too wonder what they do with cats after catching them ?? Poor but Cute things they are . 🙂

  8. Solace says:

    Great story!

    I just love cats, they are the most amazing creatures

  9. No doubt about it the Saudi street cats are smart and survivors!

    I was walking in my all-Saudi compound the other night and actually got to pet a friendly feral street cat. It was super skinny but I noticed immediately she was a mother and likely nursing kittens. The kittens were nowhere in sight. I patted her and continued on my walk.

    Returning to my home from the walk I came back upon her and she was stretched out in the middle of the street! I petted her and almost like a friendly dog, she rolled over wanting her belly patted! I gave a final pat and started to move on but then I noticed a truck coming down the road. I waited for her to move but she just stayed put as the truck got closer. finally, in fearing she would allow herself to get run over, I run out and scoop her up over one arm. To my surprise she never fussed or attempted to break away. The truck driver was kind enough to slow down, stop before waving and going back on his way.

    I put her on the sidewalk where she followed me for 1.5 blocks. I figured if she came all the way home with me I’d take her in but perhaps she remembered she had kittens to get back to. I don’t know!

    Saudi Street Cats – could easily be a great book of photos and many accompanying stories.

  10. Nader says:

    Great story, Marahm. I had one of those cats bringing her kittens right below my bed! I could hear them every night I go to sleep! It was fun for the first few days, after that I had to sleep in a different room. Two weeks later I invaded what has become their home, and took them to a different place, and I got my room back. They were nice kittens with different color. They were fat too! I love fat cats, they look so cute!

  11. Marahm says:

    Welcome, Nader, and thanks for your comment. I’m amazed at how many other people have had unusual experiences with feral cats. I thought I was the only one. Bedu, I like your idea– a book about Saudi Street Cats. You’d have to supply the photos, but I can contribute three stories.

  12. Aafke says:

    I volunteer to do illustrations!
    We’ll get it published!
    I’m sure we will be able to get many more stories, even the title ”Saudi Streetcats” is perfect!

  13. Aafke says:

    Oh, and books on cats are bound to be a hit in England! We’ll try for an english publisher!

  14. Marahm says:

    Count me in, Aafke. I love anthologies, but I don’t know how to do anything except write. Do you know how to find a publisher? If you can illustrate and find a publisher, I can write and edit other contributer’s essays.

  15. Foods says:

    Keep on the good job! Foods

  16. I have seen quite a few feral “garbage cats” in different parts of Riyadh. Sorry to say this makes me think about public policy and public health. Where is animal control in Riyadh? Surely such a rich nation with high unemployment could hire people to collect such animals, clean them, cure them of diseases and provide them for adoption. What am I missing?

  17. Marahm says:

    You’re missing nothing. Your point is well taken. If we’re going to open the subject of public health, we might as well start with those big green dumpsters that incubate all manner of rot. Cats are the least of the guests to that table.

  18. I may not be in Saudi but the cat stories i heard in Lebanon make me cringe and smile (depending on the teller…) my own street cat Summer has her story too. Let me know if you get that book coming along I’d love to contribute!

  19. Aafke says:

    Yes, I think we should make it a Cats in the Middle East book, there are too many good stories about!
    I mean it! perheaps we should start a seperate blog for collecting. I am quite serious, and I’m sure we can get it published!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s