Nala and Stripes: Two tough critics.

The first book in the Read by Candlelight series was written while I was house sitting in an isolated part of the New Zealand countryside. My only company was Birdie, the dog, who hung out with me everyday. The Secretary and the Ghost was dedicated to her, and since then, every single Read by Candlelight book has been dedicated to the pets of the house I was in when I wrote it.


Enter Covid-19 and the massive disruption it has caused to international travel. No longer able to travel overseas, my house sits were cancelled. However, we’re currently able to travel within New Zealand, and when a family I sat for before decided to head to the mountains for a week, I found myself house-sitting two old friends.

Nala, a cat, sitting on a grey blanket on a black sofa. She is trying to ignore me as I take her photo.

This was my third time sitting Stripes and Nala. These two sisters look almost identical except when it comes to their size and their personalities. Stripes loves her food, and prefers to spend her days dozing in the sun. Nala is a lean hunter, ferocious despite her tiny size. She is a loner, spending most of her time outside and making it clear that she gets pets on her terms, not yours.


Complicating things further is that Stripes and Nala do not get on at all. At best they tolerate each other, at worst they chase each other out of the house and don’t let the other near the food bowl. Stripes, being the bigger cat, is the worst offender, but Nala isn’t above taking a revenge swipe here and there.


My first time house-sitting them, it was summer. I barely saw Nala who stayed outside for most of the two weeks I took care of them. In fact, unable to tell the sisters apart at that stage, on day one, I fed Stripes three times, mistaking her for Nala at one point.


Stripes wasn’t exactly friendly, but she knew that I had access to the food, so she hung around the house and let me know when it was time to refill her bowl. I only saw Nala a handful of times, but the steadily depleting cat biscuits (Stripes preferred the wet food), let me know she was around. In true cat fashion, both of them stayed aloof until the last day I sat, when I had a million and one cleaning and packing jobs to take care. Suddenly I was both cats’ best friend and they could not get enough of getting patted by me.


The second time I sat, I barely saw either cat. I was only there a week, but even so, it was like ‘nope, don’t know you, don’t want to know you.’ I knew they were fine because their food disappeared, and there were cat shaped indentations on the beds, but yeah.


I was determined to win them over the third time I sat. This time, the colder weather was on my side. In a really weird reversal, it was now Nala who hung out inside, parking herself on the downstairs sofa for most of the day. I was worried that maybe I’d scared the cats the second time I sat and they’d avoided me. Nala gave me a thoughtful sniff and evidently decided I checked out. I was allowed to pet her, and she even sat on my lap a few times.


Stripes gave me a startled deer-in-headlights stare when she realised the person putting her food in her bowl was not her usual human and signalled her disapproval by avoiding me completely. She did a very thorough job of this—I didn’t even see her indents on the bed where she usually sleeps. However, way more food disappeared than Nala could eat alone, and as soon as her family returned, Stripes was there, demanding attention.


So I have not quite succeeded in my goal of winning over these two critics, but I’m determined that housesit #4 will be a different story.