The Curious Case of the Kitty Known As Elrond


This adorable creature is Elrond. He’s a paraplegic kitty unable to move his back legs, whom my mother Kim Bartlett and I found at a shelter in Egypt struggling to care for him with very limited resources. We adopted him, sponsoring his care and then flying him to the U.S. where he has lived with us ever since. He has a big padded cage to stay in at night, and spends his days in a cart we wheel around different parts of the house. Because he can’t help but soil himself, he receives baths in the sink twice every day to clean him up.

Elrond as first encountered in Egypt

Elrond as first encountered in Egypt

Until Elrond was examined by a veterinarian in the U.S., we actually believed he was a girl, as his genitalia were damaged such that the Egyptian vets could not discern male organs. We named him Rania, after the queen of Jordan who is a generous supporter of animal welfare causes and one of the most all-around decent monarchs currently in power. His new male name, Elrond, was chosen after the Lord of the Rings character based on his elfin appearance.

Another of our cats, a big macho tomcat named Mango, is very fond of Elrond. He likes to get in Elrond’s cart with him, and to vigorously groom him whenever I set him in a chair or on the ground, as when I’m holding him and need to attend quickly to some chore. Recently I saw Mango put his arm around Elrond, bite his neck, and begin to mount him as if he were trying to mate. This made me wonder if perhaps Elrond is in some sense female after all; if, despite having male organs, he might be internally hermaphroditic, or else produce female pheromones causing humans and cats alike to automatically perceive him as a girl.

Elrond and Mango

Elrond and Mango

Note that Mango does sometimes engage in mating-type behaviors with other male cats. However, in all other cases it’s been him allowing more submissive toms to mount him; the only cats he mounts himself are females. This is opposite to dogs, in which alphas (or claimants to the title) mount other individuals as a display of dominance, but consistent with other cats, among whom I’ve often observed dominant males mounted by their subordinates but never the reverse.

Is there a moral to all this for human beings? Of course it would be misguided to relate other species’ social behaviors directly to our own, since after all dogs and cats differ markedly from each other despite being much more closely related than either is to us. Yet it does suggest that even in non-human animals, gender and sexuality may be a good deal more complex than just genitalia and chromosomes, and that those who presume to judge other people’s identities as “unnatural” might want to rethink their assumptions.


UPDATE: On July 1st, 2016, Elrond passed away suddenly following a severe fungal infection. Paralyzed in his hind legs, Elrond nonetheless knew joy in being held, fed, and rolled around the house in his “chariot,” a transparent plastic box mounted in a postal cart. The baby of the household, he demanded much effort to care for, but in return inspired boundless delight through his cuteness and playful, shy yet upbeat personality. He was happy in his final moments being held in my mother Kim‘s arms. I take comfort in picturing him reborn with wings, soaring through golden skies with the boundless freedom of motion denied him in this life. Goodbye, Elrond. May we someday meet again, before the end of time.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Author

Born and raised within the animal rights movement, Wolf Gordon Clifton has always felt strongly connected to other creatures and concerned for their well-being. Beginning in childhood he contributed drawings of animals for publication in Animal People News, and traveled with his parents to attend conferences and visit animal projects all over the world. During high school he began writing for the newspaper and contributing in various additional ways around the Animal People office. His first solo trip overseas, to film a promotional video for the Bali Street Dog Foundation in Indonesia, led him to create the animated film Yudisthira's Dog, retelling the story of an ancient Hindu king famed for his loyalty to a street dog. It also inspired lifelong interests in animation and world religion, which he went on to study for college at Vanderbilt University. Wolf graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and minors in Film Studies and Astronomy. In 2015, he received a Master of Arts in Museology and Graduate Certificate in Astrobiology from the University of Washington. His thesis project, the online exhibit Beyond Human: Animals, Aliens, and Artificial Intelligence, brings together animal rights, astrobiology, and AI research to explore the ethics of humans' relationships with other sentient beings, and can be viewed on the Animal People Forum. His diverse training and life experiences enable him to research and write about a wide variety of animal-related issues, in a global context and across the humanities, arts, and sciences. In his spare time, he does paleontological work for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and writes for the community blog Neon Observatory. Click to see author's profile.

1 Comment

  1. patrice greanville on

    An amazing and inspiring gift to us all, Wolf. I am so glad you were able to give him a good life. His passing through this world will be imprinted on my mind for a long time, along with the memories of my own feline children.

Leave A Reply