One of the most anticipated new characters in Star Trek: Discovery’s third season made her debut this week, continuing a proud tradition of felines in the Federation.
Grudge the Cat is a Maine Coon and the beloved pet of new character Booker Cleveland, played by David Ajala. (Ajala should be familiar to science fiction fans of his roles as Captain Roy Eris from Nightflyers and Drifter from Kill Command.)
Ajala’s Booker plants a kiss on Grudge’s head as the floofy feline hangs out on the bridge of his starship. Later, when a mercenary courier tries forcing Booker to reveal the location of priceless cargo and Booker refuses, the mercenary threatens Grudge.
“She is a Queen!” Booker says indignantly, clearly more upset at the threat to his cat than to his own personal safety.
Grudge is played by Leeu, a male Maine Coon who was chosen after the producers put out a call for a large domestic cat.
The floofy tabby follows in the paw steps of Spot, Commander Data’s beloved orange tabby on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the show’s most prominent species of felid aliens, the Caitians.
Now we just need to get Buddy his own guest spot on Star Trek — preferably as the captain of his own ship.
A regal Maine Coon is the newest cast member of CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery, continuing the proud tradition of felines serving aboard Starfleet vessels throughout the franchise’s half century of existence.
Leeu, an 18-pound fluffster, will play Grudge, the feline companion to David Ajala’s new character, Cleveland Booker. Science fiction fans may remember Ajala from his excellent performances in 2016’s Kill Command, about a military AI gone rogue, and Captain Roy Eris in 2018’s Nightflyers, which was based on a short story by George R.R. Martin.
“We put out a casting call for a large cat … and he fit the bill. So far he seems to be a one-take wonder,” said Leslie Lawrence, one of Leeu’s trainers.
For Discovery’s crew, getting a solid acting performance out of Leeu isn’t much different than a photographer getting a cat to pose for a picture.
“Everybody says that their cat can make a good set cat,” Lawrence said. “But it does take a specific animal to be able to stay cool and calm and collected, because when cats are done, they’re done.”
When Rubble the cat came into the world the radio waves were dominated by The B-52’s Love Shack, Debbie Gibson’s Lost In Your Eyes and De La Soul’s Me Myself and I.
George Herbert Walker Bush was in the White House, America hadn’t yet become a politically polarized wasteland and a gallon of gas cost 97 cents. Ghostbusters and Lethal Weapon both returned to theaters with sequels, the USSR withdrew from its war in Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands filled China’s Tiananmen Square to protest the communist government.
“It was just before my 20th birthday when I got him,” Michele Heritage, Rubble’s human, told the Daily Mail in 2018, for a story marking Rubble’s 30th birthday. “He was part of a litter [from a] cat that my sister’s friend had and I had just left home. I was lonely living on my own so got him in as a kitten.”
Rubble — a Maine Coon who became the world’s oldest cat a few years ago after the death of a 30-plus Texas feline named Scooter — died in May, just short of his 32nd birthday. His death wasn’t reported publicly by Heritage until July 3.
Heritage, who lives in Exeter, UK, said she’s inconsolable over Rubble’s death, but attributes his longevity to lots of love and affection.
“I have always treated him like a child,” she said. “I don’t have any children and had another cat called Meg, who passed at the age of 25. If you care about something, no matter what it is, it does last.”
At almost 32, Rubble lived the equivalent of about 150 human years. The record for the oldest-ever cat belongs to Creme Puff, who died at 38 years old.
When I was looking to adopt a cat I spent hours on the web reading about cat care, kitten proofing, behavior and, of course, breed.
Run a Google search about looking for the right cat and you’ll get several pages of nearly identical results about different cat breeds, what their personalities are like and what to expect from them.
Yet it turned out advice from a friend — who grew up with cats and has two of his own — was more accurate than anything I’d read online.
“When it comes to cats it’s a crapshoot, man,” my friend told me. “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
I wanted an engaged, friendly pet, and all the breed guides suggested Siamese are the best choice. But what I heard from shelter staffers echoed my friend’s observation: Don’t depend on a breed description because every cat is unique.
In the end I adopted Buddy, a gray tabby domestic shorthair. No particular breed, in other words. (Though he thinks he’s his own special kind of cat, and he’s not wrong.)
Buddy, it turns out, is vocal, bold and friendly. He’s constantly by my side. He’s got a vibrant language of trills, meows and chirps with which he shares his opinion on everything. Where other cats hide when guests are over or a delivery guy knocks on the door, Buddy runs up, curious to see who’s on the other side and if they’re going to be his newest friends.
So why is it so difficult to pin down a cat’s personality, and why don’t cats fit the behavioral profiles of their breeds the way dogs do?
The answer lies in how both animals were domesticated, and their respective paths to becoming companion animals.
Dogs have been working animals for 30,000 years. The earliest dogs helped their humans hunt and guarded their camps at night, alerting them to dangerous situations or intruders. Later, when humans domesticated livestock and developed agriculture, dogs were bred for different purposes: Some herded sheep, some scared off wolves and coyotes, others pulled sleds.
Today we’ve got dogs who sniff out explosives, drugs and diseases. Police dogs catch a scent and help officers track down suspects. Therapy dogs bring joy to the elderly, sick and injured, while guide dogs make it possible for people with disabilities to live independently.
The point is, human hands have indelibly shaped canis familiaris since long before recorded history. These days dogs are valued primarily for their companionship, but virtually every breed has a lineage that began with practicality, meaning humans shaped them for disposition and ability. A dog’s breed is a good indication of its temperament.
Cats? Not so much.
Cats are famously self-domesticated: When humans developed agriculture and began storing grain, rodents flocked to the abundant new food sources, to the dismay of early human societies.
That’s when cats just showed up, exterminating rodents while showing no interest in grain. Humans didn’t need to breed felines to hunt mice and rats — it’s as natural to cats as grooming and burying their business.
Cats didn’t take on many other jobs in addition to their mousing duties, mostly because they’re famously resistant to following orders, but their hunting skills were so valuable to early societies that they didn’t need to do anything else to earn their keep.
Because of that, no one bothered breeding cats until fairly recently, and the vast majority of cat breeding focuses on changing the way cats look, not how they behave.
We like to attribute qualities to cat breeds, and some of them are based in truth. Siamese do tend to talk more than other cats, ragdolls really do go limp when they’re picked up, and Maine Coons are famously chill despite dwarfing most other domestic cats.
But without the behaviorally-specific lineage common to dogs, cat breed behavioral attributes are more like broad stereotypes.
Beyond that, a cat’s personality is primarily determined by genetics and how they were raised in kittenhood. That’s why it’s crucial to handle and socialize kittens when they’re just weeks old, and why ferals will always fear humans.
It’s also why you should take stereotypes about cat breeds with a grain of salt when looking to adopt. If you’re adopting an adult, any good rescue will have information on the cat’s personality, likes and dislikes. If you’re adopting a kitten, you’re pulling the lever on a slot machine.
My advice is to put aside preconceptions about breeds, keep an open mind about looks, and find a cat who connects with you. Like people, no two cats are the same, and a cat’s personality is much more important than the color of its fur when it comes to bonding with an animal who will be in your life for the next 15 to 20 years.
Featured image: Natalie Chettle holds Rupert, a Maine Coone.
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.