Running On Three Legs

Many years ago, at a time when I desperately needed to believe in heroes, I

Nuada and His Book

wrote a book that was published in 1997 entitled When the Gods Are Silent.

Being me, however, I couldn’t write a straight heroic fantasy. For those of you who haven’t met her, here’s an introduction to the main character and a couple of her friends.

“Rabble rode up to her camp on a steel-dust grey stallion with scarred knees. Other scars, thin and puckered, threaded the horse’s rippling coat. Loping along at the horse’s left side came a mottled brown and tan cur, its ear shredded from fighting, the eyelid limp over its right eye.

“Rabble herself was clad in a leather jerkin and trousers, her copper sword sheathed at her back. A knife peeped from each boot-top and she held a bow lightly in one hand…

“Hulhc studied her… The first thing he noticed, other than the flame-red hair she wore in an elaborate braid down her back, were her enormous brown eyes, so dark as to be almost black and flecked incongruously with gold. Her features were sharp – almost angular – an impression intensified by her hairline’s widow’s peak. Her skin was fair, though weathered, with a dusting of freckles, like laughter, across her nose.” (When the Gods Are Silent, Chapter 2, pages 6-7).

The horse, by the way, is named Dog Meat. The dog is Scrapper.

Rabble’s third companion is a three-legged cat named Gimp: “…a very lean grey-striped tabby cat.” Gimp is also less than perfect: “Opening baleful yellow-green eyes, the cat blinked insults at Hulhc for disturbing its nap. Then it rose and stretched languorously. Slightly shocked, Hulhc realized that the cat lacked its right leg, clean to the shoulder.” (page 6)

Unlike Scrapper and Dog Meat, Gimp was very firmly based on someone I knew quite well – my cat, Nuada. The opportunity to adopt Nuada had been a birthday present. We’d gone to a pound in Westchester County in New York. There, among a nice assortment of kittens romping in a lovely, open cattery, I narrowed down my choices to two, both about eight weeks old.

One of these was mostly white with brown spots. He was lively and cute, everything a kitten should be. The other was a slim grey tabby with narrow dark tiger stripes against a pussy willow grey background.

There was one problem with the grey tabby. Something was wrong with the “wrist” joint of his right front leg. This didn’t slow him down much. He ran a bit awkwardly, dipping down onto the wrist rather than using the paw. He climbed just as well as any other kitten, using the damaged paw like a hook.

I debated back and forth. I knew where my heart was, but was I in any position to adopt a crippled cat? I was in graduate school with only a stipend for income. I lived in a relatively small apartment in the Bronx. As I weighed practical against emotion, the shelter employee who had been helping us was called away to an emergency.

During the interval, the grey tabby decided to make up my mind for me. While the other kitten was happy to play with his fellows, this one focused in on our little group. We were standing next to a tall, pillar-like cat tree and he climbed up, hand over hand, to get to eye level and join the conversation.

That did it. Practical or not, he was coming home with me. The shelter had him listed as “Tripod” or something else not very kind. I named him Nuada, after the mythic Celtic war leader who lost an arm in battle, then had it replaced with one all of silver. I debated about naming the kitten “Tir,” for the Norse deity who gave his hand so the Fenris Wolf could be bound, but since my other cat was named “Gwydion,” I decided to stick with British Isles myth and legend.

Nuada proved to be a remarkable cat. However, the problems I had anticipated did come up. The cattery had kept him moderately confined, but romping with Gwydion in my apartment put too much strain on the wrist joint. It swelled up, developing something like “water on the knee.”

I consulted my friend Kathy Curran, who was currently working as a vet tech. She consulted her boss, explaining my lack of anything vaguely resembling extra income. Dr. Raitri kindly agreed to see Nuada. His diagnosis was that it was best if the limb came off entirely because, although we could drain the liquid off, it would recur and eventually infection would set in.

So we agreed. Dr. Raiti did the surgery for a nominal fee. He even matched up the stripes. Nuada healed very well and spent the next twelve years active and lively.

He was a funny cat. He knew perfectly well what a mirror was but, nonetheless, he would snarl at his reflection. I think he thought he looked tough and cool. Three legs never stopped him from leaping and jumping. He also decided that doors were never to be closed if he wanted through them. No piteous meowing for him… If Nuada wanted a door opened, he’d stand on his back legs and hammer on the door with his front paw.

In the final year of his life, Nuada began to lose weight for no reason the vets could figure out. Jim and I decided he was simply wearing out a bit faster than normal. Jim is a restless sleeper and Nuada quickly realized that if he wanted a snack, Jim was the one to wake up. He’d go to Jim’s side of the bed, stand on his back legs, and use that powerful front paw to punch Jim awake.

Remember how Nuada was a birthday present? Well, despite getting weaker, he persisted until my next birthday came around. When I woke up early that morning and checked on him, he was pretty low. I sat with him for a while. The next time I checked, he was gone. Persistent as ever, my birthday kitten insisted on staying for one last birthday.

Nuada has been on my mind quite a lot lately. You see, I just acquired another three-legged cat. My eleven year-old cat Pryderi developed cancer in his left hip. His long-time vet said the only treatment was complete amputation of the leg.

We decided to give Pryderi the chance. He’s doing well, though he’s still got a ways to go. Lab tests show that they got the cancer. When I sit with Pryderi, stroking him and encouraging him through this period of recovery, I tell him stories about Nuada, who chased through life, running on three legs.

17 Responses to “Running On Three Legs”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    And those are the tales that we hold close. They move and inspire, in ways we never know.

    Then sometime later, we see their effect, and cry anew in joy we can’t explain.

  2. Barbara Joan Says:

    Thank you Nicholas for expressing my feelings so beautifully.

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    People who don’t live with animals often find it hard to understand just how much they take hold of your heart and just how much they are part of the family. This is particularly true when the animals are seriously ill. That’s when unfeeling friends are full of advice to “have it put down”. No — that’s not how it works.

    My cat Porgy died earlier this year (yes, he has a sister called Bess) and we were, of course, heartbroken when he died. He was only nine years old. But he lived for five years longer than he would have lived if Robin and I had not been prepared to spend time, effort and considerable sums of money on him. And they were happy years as well for Porgy, and I’m very glad he had them. I wish I could have given him more of them.

    He was seriously injured when he was very young. The vet bills ended up costing us something on the order of $10,000. We used to joke that he was as expensive as a car! But since he wasn’t really sure what a car was, I don’t think he ever fully appreciated the joke. We paid those vet bills without a second thought because Porgy was just as much part of the family as all the other furry and not so furry people that live in this house.

    Living as we do in a country where human medical treatment is free, (though animal treatment, of course, is not) I have to admit that we were somewhat taken aback at the final total of Porgy’s medical bills. We were warned up-front that it would get expensive, but I’m not sure we realised that it would get that expensive, since aren’t really used to thinking about medical costs at all. But nevertheless, we never considered taking any other course of action. And now that we do have a realistic grip on just how much these things can cost, we would certainly do it all again in an instant if ever we had to. That’s what families do; we all muck in together and contribute what we can. When Porgy was ill and couldn’t feed or toilet himself, Bess brought him three pre-chewed get-well-soon rats. That’s what families do.

    Jane understands this and so does Pryderi. And I’m sure that Pryderi takes heart from the stories of Nuada.


  4. janelindskold Says:

    Pryderi is doing better than expected…

    He got his staples out early and is now experimenting with how to get to his favorite places.

    Yesterday, he managed to get up onto Jim’s desk (we have a full-sized office with full-sized desks) and spent the afternoon, much as usual, helping Jim write an archeological report.

    More than anything else, his determination to find a way to get back to normal convinces me we made the right choice.

  5. Paul Dellinger Says:

    Despite all that’s happened to him, Pryderi is a lucky cat — to have you and Jim as his people. Just as Alan says, animal people understand.

  6. heteromeles Says:

    Good luck to Pryderi.

    I grin sometimes when I hear talk about cats and their people. In my family, it’s cats and their humans, because each cat quite clearly has his or her own personality, and is thus a person.

  7. CBI Says:

    C.S. Lewis once wrote that in a person’s taming of and care for his pets, the pets became more truly themselves: in response to our love, our dogs and cats become more what Dogs and Cats were intended to be. He even went as far as to suggest that a pet could achieve immortality through (per, by means of) his master’s immortality.

    Not a bad thought. I remember as a kid asking my mom if our beloved dog would be with us in heaven. Her response was quite to the point: “We know that we’ll be perfectly happy in heaven. If it is necessary for our happiness for JayGee to be there, then she will.” What a wonderful answer from a loving mom while still being true to epistemologic limits.

  8. janelindskold Says:

    I like sharing my home with non-humans. As heteromeles said, they’re their own people, as individual from each other as humans are from each other — sometimes I think more so, because they don’t follow fashion trends.

    Our biggest problem right now is convincing Keladry that Pryderi is not a scary monster. She’s the youngest of our cats, has never had to adapt to a newcomer, and this alteration of one of her buddies has her very stressed.

    We’re working on it slowly, and it’s good that her hissing hasn’t made Pryderi miserable, but she’s usually such a purry, mellow person that this caught us off guard.

    I like CBI’s mother’s comment for it’s attempt to balance both her son’s comfort and the human-centric view of most of the dominant religions. That’s a generous effort indeed.

  9. heteromeles Says:

    I was listening to a science writer talking about how brain biology plays into morality, and I realized something.

    Humans domesticated dogs. Humans domesticated cats. Dogs and cats can be quite good friends in a human house. But a dog never domesticated a cat.

    That’s one of the odd things about the human species that gets amazingly little press: humans as a species will attempt to domesticate anything: whales, elephants, bears, and reptiles (seen those designer pythons?). We’ve succeeded with scores of mammals and birds, hundreds of plants, even insects (bees), fungi (yeast), and bacteria (E. coli).

    Heck, that guy who sold pet rocks became a millionaire.

    There are other species (notably ants) that arguably domesticate other species, but humans seem to be unique in our mania for it.

    Still, it’s weird that I’ve only twice seen it listed as one of the differences between humans and other species.

  10. janelindskold Says:


    That is interesting. However, I think you should take into account that some anthropologists feel that domestication was mutual.

    Humans create trash in a way no other species does. Turkeys and dogs quite likely began domestication scavenging middens. Dogs may have started even earlier, scavenging kills.

    Rabbits may have started moving in on human territory to scrounge planted fields — finding human company worth putting up with for easy eats.

    And it’s fairly accepted that cat probably domesticated themselves hunting in grain storage areas…

    So did humans domesticate animals or did animals take advantage of our general tendency toward mess and waste?

    Later, of course, humans did go after creatures who hadn’t made the choice…

  11. heteromeles Says:

    Oh, I agree, and I’d even venture to say that we’ve read many of the same books.

    My point is that we don’t see coalitions of dogs and cats (or cats and chickens, or dogs and parrots, or dogs and horses) running around together, without a human mediating the relationship. That’s the awkward part about the “mutual domestication” argument, or the theory that cats domesticated themselves.

    Humans make quite a lot of multi-species relationships possible. While I’ve seen a tremendous number of inter-species interactions and multiple species groups, humans appear to be different in both our desire and ability to bring multiple species together.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    Because we don’t see it, does that mean it isn’t there?

    There are “coalitions” of herd animals. Of birds and various animals. Of mixed flocks of birds. Of schooling fish.

    We explain this all as “natural” or “instinctive” behaviors, but perhaps the creatures themselves see it differently.

    When we were at the zoo the other day, we saw a baby zebra chasing an ostrich. Both seemed to be having a lot of fun. How is to say the baby zebra didn’t see the ostrich as a sort of odd uncle? Who is to say the ostrich didn’t think of the zebra as a sort of amusing “kid down the block”?

    So often we look at the other creatures through the filter of our preconceptions. Then when we look at the actual situation — as, for example, recent studies of hyenas that show the hyenas are more likely to be the hunters and those “noble” lions the scavengers — we learn how much those preconceptions alter the evidence.

    Just to say…

  13. heteromeles Says:

    My experience comes from my mom, who has, for over a decade, been feeding the birds every morning. She started with feeding the chickens, and then the local wildlife (everything from mourning doves to ravens to ground squirrels) came in to eat the scraps. When the chickens died (of old age) she kept feeding the wild animals.

    It’s a fascinating thing to see. The adult ravens bring their youngsters in most springs, because apparently, it’s difficult for a young raven to learn to eat stuff off the ground, and my mom makes its safe for the kids to be there. She calls it kindergarten, and perhaps it is.

    To be clear, she doesn’t hand feed them, and most of the animals leave immediately if they see a human watching. The only thing she does is to keep the adult ravens from eating the young ground squirrels.

    So yes, I’ve seen quite a few multiple species interactions, and I have no doubt they communicate quite easily. Watching a raven and squirrel face off is quite interesting, and so is watching the interactions among the three or four different bird species who eat together.

    I’ve also seen quite a lot of the surrounding hills, and there aren’t any other areas where all of these animals come together. Undoubtedly this is due to the local abundance of food my mom provides, but not all of it.

    So that’s where I’m coming from. I see animals interact with each other all the time. I interact with animals all the time, too.

    What I have rarely seen is interspecies friendships without human mediation (although there are plenty of videos).

    What I have never seen is another animal deliberately domesticating a bunch of other species. For example, the ravens in my mom’s yard don’t bring in food for the ground squirrels, even though functionally there is no reason they couldn’t do it. The tradeoff of some worthless plants for an occasional baby squirrel would probably appeal to them if they thought that way.

    Conversely, it is normal for humans to think this way. Certainly kids have to be taught how to take care of pets, but no one thinks it is abnormal for someone to want a pet. Imagine a raven wanting a baby squirrel as a pet (or vice versa) and I think you’ll see what I mean.

  14. janelindskold Says:

    Oh! I’d love to see that feeder.

    Have you or your mother read Bernd Heinrich’s RAVENS IN WINTER. It’s non-fiction, a study of raven behavior.

    I loved it. I have his MIND OF THE RAVEN on my “to read” shelf — and would someday like to do a book with ravens as characters.

  15. heteromeles Says:

    I got Ravens in Winter for her years ago. We both love Heinrich’s writing.

  16. Allen Garvin Says:

    Oh, I went out earlier tonight to a rather slow-preparing thai place, and figured I needed something to read. At random from the shelf, I grabbed When the Gods Are Silent, which I haven’t read since it was new. I got about 35 pages in when the red curry dish I ordered was delivered. Now, just before I was going to bed, I was checking to see if you had anything new out, and saw this post. Here’s a quick pic of the book where I tossed it when I got home, next to the cat who settled down next to it:

    He (Mister Squeak) is an outdoor feral rescue, and is quite skittish, except when approached on his own terms (which means, he won’t be held and always needs an escape route, and has to make the first move himself), but then he’s a big sweetie. I am now headed to bed, planning to curl up and read the rest of the novel.

  17. janelindskold Says:

    Allen —

    That’s a marvelous concidence…

    All my cats (and one of my guinea pigs) are rescues of some sort. I really admire you and Mister Squeak for working things out so well. It’s not easy for a feral to adapt that well….

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