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.
We have arrived in orbit around Canis Prime in the Dog 359 system, home to a primitive pre-warp species known as Canis Familiaris.
Despite the presence of a team of interpreters, our diplomats have been unable to get the inhabitants of Canis Prime to calm down and stop trying to hump them.
After presenting the primitive canids with a ball, a recreational object meant as a gift of goodwill, the canids pointedly refuse to accept the gift, insisting that our diplomats throw it, only for the canids to bring it back to them covered in a revolting membrane of canid slobber and demand they throw it again.
Our Interstellar Dog Intelligence and Observation Team (IDIOT) clearly failed to prepare us for these strange creatures and their repulsive rituals.
“Captain, I beg you to beam us up,” my normally stoic first officer, Commander Stryker, implored. “Please. These beings are too primitive and stupid to join the Furrderation.”
Tensions reached a boiling point when the members of my away team dug a latrine a few klicks from the primary canid settlement, Good Boyistan, and returned later to find a crowd of canids fighting amongst themselves to consume the team’s eliminations.
Shortly afterward we received a hail from the Canid Welcoming Committee on the surface, formally requesting to tour the ship, with an uncomfortably specific number of questions about our ship’s litter system, as well as how and where our waste is disposed.
I’ve ordered my Chief of Security, Lieutenant Wharf, to post guards at all privy chambers on the vessel. I will not have my ship used as a dining facility by these strange creatures.
I regret having to conclude my report by advising against allowing the Canidae membership in the Furrderation. There’s just something fishy about them, aside from the whole eating our poop and slobbering things. They are too friendly, suspiciously friendly even, and their culture does not appear to have any concept of personal space. In addition, they are embarrassingly easy to manipulate with simple praise, which would create a security risk for our Furrderation member species.
Captain Buddy out.
Lieutenant, have the transporter room recall the away team immediately and set a course for the Fowl 62c system, warp five. It’s time we get the hell away from these filthy, disgusting, smelly…is this thing still recording?
They’ve been mousers on interstellar starships, companions on long-haul freighters and — like Speaker to Animals, the Kzin from Larry Niven’s classic science fiction novel Ringworld — warriors of galactic repute leading dangerous expeditions to alien worlds.
Star Trek is no different.
Mention the topic of cats to any Trekkie and the first thing that probably comes to mind is Spot, the orange tabby cat who belonged to Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Spot was a mainstay on the Enterprise-D, earning the respect of the Klingon Commander Worf and serving as Data’s muse for a hilarious poem in the cat’s honor, “Ode to Spot.”
One of the highlights of Star Trek: The Next Generation is watching the gruff Klingon learn that, unlike dogs, cats don’t give a damn about commands.
But cats play a much bigger role in the wider Star Trek universe than even many Trekkies realize.
As fans of Star Trek know, the Federation is an alliance of peaceful worlds and races committed to exploration of the galaxy, friendship with new species and non-interference with developing civilizations.
What many may not realize, however, is just how many species are involved in the Federation. Some, like the Bajorans, Andorians and Betazoids, are seen pretty frequently in Trek shows and movies, but others have made only a few on-screen appearances.
Among the latter are the Caitians, described in Memory Alpha (the wiki of canon for Star trek) as “a warp-capable species resembling felines.”
Their home planet is known as Cait to other races, and Ferasa to the Caitians themselves, and is located within the Lynx constellation. They made their first live-action appearance in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:
Because of its origins as a network television show, budget has always been a major factor in the way aliens are depicted in Star Trek.
The show’s writers have come up with an elaborate back story for why so many alien species are humanoid, closely representing humankind, but the minor differences of most species — the ridged foreheads of Klingons and elfin ears of Vulcans — are for the most part remnants from the days when production crews had little money or time to create elaborate props and effects.
It’s also the reason why the Klingons, for example, were radically redesigned in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, with its lavish budget and SFX.
With a species like the Caitians, however, you either go all-in or not-at-all. That’s why the species has made only three appearances in Trek films to date, and why most of their exploits have been reserved for Trek novels and comics.
But the internet loves cats, and Star Trek Online, the massively multiplayer online game set in the Trek universe, saw enormous positive feedback when it added Caitians as a playable species back in 2011.
Here’s my very own Caitian starfleet captain from the game:
According to Star Trek lore, the Caitians share distant ancestry with the Kzin, the aforementioned war-like race of feline aliens from Niven’s Ringworld books.
That’s because Niven himself had a run as a writer for Trek comic books in the 1980s, and wrote his own creation into the wider Star Trek universe.
Just like cats have a range of personalities, and breeds have their own unique characteristics — the gentle giant Maine Coons, the talkative Siamese — the felines of Star Trek have different lineages and dispositions.
While the Caitians are peaceful and staunch allies of humans and the Federation, the Kzinti are a bunch of war-loving lunatics who find great joy in blowing things up.
Maybe, just maybe, a handful of you non-Trekkies have made it this far. Maybe your love of cats kept you interested in this story, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I wonder what Star Trek is all about…”
In the spirit of the Federation, I leave you this parting gift. During these dark days of quarantine, should you browse Netflix and find yourself tempted by Star Trek: The Next Generation, here’s a guide to the entire cast that imagines each of them as cats. And not just any cats: Each kitty resembles its Enterprise crew counterpart.
Live long, my friends, and prosper!
(Star Trek Cats by artist Jenny Parks. Check out more at her site!)
People who hate on Star Trek think it’s all technobabble about tachyon fields and Starfleet officers shouting things like “Captain, shields are at 60 percent and falling!” during yawn-inducing battle sequences.
Au contraire, my feline-loving friends! Star Trek is not only awesome, it’s written by people who love cats, and kitties have always had a place on the USS Enterprise.
Perhaps the most famous of those cats is Spot, a ginger tabby who belonged to Lt. Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Even in space, it appears, cats are still picky and want attention on their own terms — Data famously tried 221 different types of cat food “formulas” before finding one Spot approved of, and when Spot wasn’t wandering the corridors of the Enterprise 1701-D, he was hanging around his human android, demanding attention and affection.
In season six of the iconic TV show, much to the chagrin of his fellow crew mates, Data read a poem about how much he loves his cat. The poem is called “Ode to Spot”:
Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses
I find myself intrigued by your sub-vocal oscillations
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection
A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion
Oh Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Denote a fairly well-developed cognitive array
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend
“Ode to Spot” has become a favorite of Star Trek fans who also happen to be cat lovers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s quite a bit of overlap.
I do, however, feel the poem is in need of an update on those last two lines:
Because you are sentient, Spot, I know you comprehend That I consider you a true and valued friend
The episode aired in 1991, but in 2019 there are still people who don’t know cats are sentient. Cats think, they feel, they’re aware of the world around them. They have a full range of emotions, experiencing things like happiness, sadness, anger, excitement, anticipation, anxiety, jealousy and contentment.
Most people who share their homes with cats and dogs would say it’s obvious that animals have emotions, but thanks to the efforts of modern scientists, we now have evidence.
Perhaps Star Trek’s writers simply got their terminology wrong. After all, in one episode, Data needs to find a cat sitter and settles on Worf, the Klingon chief of security on the Enterprise. Data is clearly worried about how Spot will get on in his absence, rattling off a list of things Worf needs to do to take care of the cat.
“And you must talk to him,” Data adds, worry creasing his forehead. “Tell him he’s a pretty cat, and a good cat.”
Worf, already looking uncomfortable as he holds Spot, glares at Data and deadpans: “I will feed him.”
Data, who realizes he’s pushing his luck, takes one last look at Spot and nods.
“Perhaps that will be enough.”
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.