Geordi & Data

Geordi may be blind, but his bond with his brother Data has helped them become an integral part of their family.

We asked their mum, Cayla, to tell us all about them.

Tell us the story about how Geordi & Data came into your family.

We met Geordi and Data back in December, after I decided to look for a kitten to try and train as an ESA (emotional support animal).

About 6 months prior, I lost my cat/soul mate/best friend/accidental ESA/catexplorer, Lou to unexpected complications from genetic irregularities. By the following autumn, I was still grieving him, but his absence revealed just how much of an impact he had on my ability to cope with and continue recovering from C-PTSD. I knew I wouldn't find another Lou, but hoped I could find a kitten that possessed qualities important to being a PTSD support animal - friendly, trusting, confident, focused on people, etc. 

We met a lot of kittens, but nothing was clicking. I was beginning to feel discouraged - it can be pretty challenging to cope with severe anxiety in crowded situations, and the number of potential adopters was a lot larger than the number of available kittens and younger cats. One morning, after an unsuccessful visit at one shelter, we made an impromptu decision to stop by another shelter that was on our way home, just to see how crowded it was. We got there just before they opened, and saw they had quite a few young cats and kittens, so we figured we'd give it one more try.

When it was our turn to meet some cats and kittens, I explained what I was looking for: a single kitten with a confident and trusting personality whom I could try to socialize and train to help me navigate my anxiety and recovery from trauma. We were introduced to a few older kittens, but no spark. I noticed two tuxedo kittens in a kennel, and took a look at their chart - bonded brothers from Crete, both special needs. I opened their kennel and Data introduced himself to me by oozing into my arms and demanding belly rubs. The connection was immediate. He rubbed all over my face, while Geordi hid nervously in the back of the kennel. Data kept rubbing on me, and then going back to Geordi and rubbing on him, like "Come meet this lady!" Geordi let me pet him a few times, but was very hesitant.

Even though they were not what I had in mind, I couldn't ignore the connection I felt. We brought them home, and it was absolutely the right decision.

They fit into our family perfectly, and both boys blossomed into happy, outgoing, and loving young cats.

They haven't even been with us for a year, but it's hard to imagine life without them.

Tell us the story behind Geordi & Data's names.

Geordi and Data are named for the Star Trek: The Next Generation characters Lt. Geordi la Forge and Commander Data.

Partially because our other animals have sci-fi themed names (Robot, Bantha, and Mac, named for Kurt Russell's character Macready in "The Thing"), but mostly because I wanted to honor their uniqueness and their relationship. In TNG, Geordi is blind and Data is an android. They are close friends, and many episodes feature the two of them working together to solve problems, help others, and support each other as they navigate possessing qualities that set them apart from others.

I'm so grateful that Geordi and Data have each other - they have been through a lot together, and rely on each other in beautiful ways.Data will often guide Geordi around obstacles, and grooms him every day, while Geordi (who has since proven a much braver and more confident cat than he appeared at the shelter) comforts Data during trips in the car, and rushes to defend him if play-time with the older cats gets too rough.

What are Geordi & Data's favourite things to do?

Geordi loves adventuring in his backpack, and on the leash, and LOVES car rides. He is also a big cuddler, and just generally wants to be wherever his mom is :)

Data has been less down with adventuring, though he has recently become more interested in exploring the back yard. He loves eating, playing fetch with his crinkle ball, and is also very big on cuddling. He often bounds up onto the bed and throws himself into whoever's arms are unoccupied.

What kind of cat adventures do you like to go on?

Right now, with Geordi being on the younger side, we keep our adventures short and extra safe, so we can build a positive foundation of going out and about together. Most of our adventures involve walking to the farmer's market, exploring the neighborhood, or accompanying me to therapy to practice skills like alerting me to escalating anxiety and sitting quietly when he needs to. We are hoping to work up to adventures like hiking and camping, but we aren't in a rush.

We've also been on a few road trips, which he has enjoyed immensely, and are planning to bring him on a short flight to LA in the fall to see how that goes.

Tell us about your most memorable adventure.

Definitely our first visit to the farmer's market!

I was nervous that he would feel overwhelmed by all the sounds and smells, but he was purring the whole time and felt brave enough to try to steal some of my pastry...

The best part was on the way back, when I let him out on the leash and he just started following me down the sidewalk, like a dog - I was so surprised I started laughing. Instant leash cat, no training required!

Why did you decide to train Geordi & Data? 

My goal was to train one or both kittens as ESAs, which meant a lot of things, including socialization.

I started both kittens with short car rides, exploring the backyard on a harness/leash, and going on walks in the backpack. It became clear pretty early on that Geordi absolutely loved going adventuring, while Data just tolerated it, at best.

I still give Data opportunities to try things, just in case, but I'm actively training Geordi for support work.

Part of our adventuring is rooted in that training and socialization, but it's also fun!

How did you train Geordi & Data?

Patience, taking things slow, and building trust!

Creating positive associations with things like the leash and harness, the backpack, the car, and unusual sounds goes a long way, and can be done pretty easily and safely at home.

Both Geordi and Data were very used to running and wrestling in their harnesses before they ever went outside, and every cat in the house was using the backpack as a nap location before I ever carried either kitten around in it.

Starting out with short adventures has also been key - one five minute walk around the block every day for a week is much better for building confidence than one two-hour hike every other week.

Right now we're practicing transitioning between the backpack, car, walking on the leash, and being carried, so Geordi gets used to doing different things in different places.

What has been the most rewarding part of having a catexplorer?

As a devoted cat lady, walking a cat on a leash alongside my dog makes my day, every time.

But as someone who is trying to overcome PTSD and heal from trauma, having a source of support and an anchor to the present moment means so much more. It's hard to explain to people who don't have experience with trauma-related mental illness, but many of my tools and coping mechanisms become much more effective and require a lot less energy to apply when Geordi is with me, whether it's at home on the couch or waiting in line for a tea. When I'm struggling, he amplifies and supports my efforts to function.

The best part though, out of all of it, is that he loves it. He's so happy to experience new things, and his joy during car rides and walks is infectious.

What has been the hardest?

Because Geordi is blind, I become really nervous about taking him to places where we might encounter dogs off leash.

I never want to put him or someone else's animal in an unsafe situation, but there are a lot of people in the Seattle area who let their dogs roam free in areas where leashes are required. It's easy enough to just not bring Geordi to hikes or parks where dogs are allowed to enjoy some time off the leash, but it's much more difficult to prepare for those who choose not to obey posted guidelines.

In hindsight, what would you do differently?

Nothing, so far. Geordi is my second catexplorer and support animal, so I'm able to do a lot of things differently with him than I did with Lou.

I'm sure we'll try some things that don't work out very well, but for now everything has been going smoothly!

What advice would you give other humans training their catexplorers?

Learn to listen to your cat, or any animal, before you ask them to do anything new.

You should be able to tell when your cat is becoming even slightly uncomfortable before bringing them into a situation they've never encountered, because by the time they are visibly afraid and reactive, it's probably way too late to turn the situation into a positive experience for them, and may have even damaged their trust in you.

Your cat will do an excellent job of communicating both their curiosity and their boundaries, but they are relying on your willingness to listen.

What are your favourite products for Geordi & Data? 

Right now, we're using a few different things:

We'll be doing some sweater/coat shopping soon, and I'm trying to design an attachment for the backpack that would create some pockets for me. It's a great backpack that is comfortable for both Geordi to ride in and for me to wear, but I definitely find myself wishing it had some exterior pockets for storing things.

Is there another Catexplorer that inspires you?

@batcat_echo and @ninatheblindcat

Follow Geordi & Data on Instagram (@geordi_data)