The Russians had Laika, the first dog in space. NASA had HAM, the chimpanzee, who not only rode atop his rocket, but actually manipulated some of the controls. Jim Kirk was inundated with tribbles. Jonesy the cat survived ALIEN. Linnea Sinclair’s SFR heroes included cat-like furzels. And even STAR TREK’s Data had Spot.
Humans on Earth seldom go anywhere without their pets, and it looks like we won’t be going into space without them, either. Even when resources are limited—air, water, food, warmth carefully calculated and apportioned as it would be on a starship or in a hostile alien environment—we humans will always make some accommodation for our pets.
In some cases, the expenditure of resources is justified by their usefulness. Cats or small dogs kill the rodents that always seem to hitchhike on ships or in storage containers. No reason that would change in space, really. Rats are wily critters. Dogs of all sizes serve as security, alerting their owners to the presence of strangers, be they humans or aliens. Larger dogs serve as protection from the same.
But we all know that’s not the real reason we’d bring those pets along. A dog, cat or furzel represents home, family, community, sometimes the only piece of those things we have when we are alone and away from the people who love us. It’s no surprise that soldiers so often adopt stray mutts in war zones, or prisoners make pets of friendly mice. The animals offer comfort and love unconditionally. Well, except for cats, who have standards.
There’s another reason for keeping pets around, of course. They make us laugh. Daily, sometimes hourly. Goofy dogs. Acrobatic cats. Mice racing in a maze. Celebrated jumping frogs. They bring relief from the stress of everyday life with their craziness—and the greater the stress, the more they are needed. No wonder cat videos are so popular on the Internet.
The heroine of my first book, Unchained Memory, has a cat, The Outlaw Jesse James, JJ for short. He is all she has left of “family,” since she lost hers in a tragic accident at the beginning of the book. He and the hero take to each other right away, a good sign.
It’s a symbol of their essential rootlessness that the hero and heroine of my second book, Trouble in Mind, are without pets. They have to find their “home” and “family” in each other. Maybe they’ll get a dog or cat sometime in the future.
In my third book, Fools Rush In, Captain Sam Murphy’s home is his ship, the Shadowhawk, and his family is his crew. The ’hawk has a menagerie of small dogs and cats aboard, to keep down the population of veers, naked, two-tailed rodent-like creatures that haunt the cargo bays. My independent heroine, Rayna Carver, has to adjust to this homey environment.
Finally, in my work-in-progress, Follow the Sun, a dog takes a more major role, as the sidekick and therapy partner of my heroine. Happy has the most success in reaching an old man with dementia who may know the location of an alien doomsday weapon.
So pets can perform the same function in our stories that they perform in our lives: working at useful jobs, providing aid and comfort, standing in for home and family, cementing the bonds of community. Who is your favorite pet in space? And do you have pet characters in your stories?
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