William Shatner Laughing at a Dead Dog Sparked a Major ‘Star Trek’ Feud

To boldly laugh at what no man has laughed at before
William Shatner Laughing at a Dead Dog Sparked a Major ‘Star Trek’ Feud

Despite taking place in an intergalactic socialist utopia, Star Trek sure had a whole lot of petty squabbles behind the scenes. Much of the backstage drama during the original show seemed to stem from Captain Kirk himself: William Shatner. While many of us are aware of his long-time enmity toward co-star George Takei, and the contractual dick-measuring contest with Leonard Nimoy that resulted in one of the worst Star Trek movies of all-time, we’d like to talk about a lesser-known Shatner feud. One that began when he laughed at a dead dog.

Beginning in the 1970s, one of Shatner’s go-to funny stories to tell at Star Trek conventions involved DeForest Kelley, the actor who played Dr. “Bones” McCoy, and the time he came to work sobbing uncontrollably. As recounted in one of Shatner’s many books, the legendary actor/toupee thief then asked, with “great concern” what had happened. Kelley confessed that his “beloved Chihuahua” had died. 

“I’m so terribly sorry,” Shatner allegedly responded. “I love dogs, and I know the pain of losing a dog you love. How did it happen?” So Kelley told his friend how he had let the dog roam free in his yard, and the poor thing “ran into the sprinkler head and died.” Shatner couldn’t help but laugh, and Kelley didn’t talk to him for “two years.”

Not one to let a good anecdote go undriven into the ground, Shatner told this story yet again on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2004. Somehow, in this telling, Shatner came off even worse. Probably because he told the audience: “I think dobermans are dogs. A chihuahua is a rat.” And when the crowd laughed at the sprinkler line, Shatner told Conan, “That’s what I did.” Of course, one might argue that a friend’s reaction to a recent traumatic event shouldn’t be the same as that of a late-night talk show’s studio audience 40 years later, but hey, you do you Bill.  

A few years later, the story changed. During a 2010 convention appearance, Shatner included some additional details, like how the Chihuahua’s name was “Emily,” but he still doubled down on his assertion that a Chihuahua is merely a “rat that barks.” Then, at the end of the bit, Shatner claimed that Kelley didn’t speak to him for “six weeks,” which is a little different than two years.

At the risk of going full Rashomon, we have yet another take on this story, not from Shatner, but from the head of the DeForest Kelley Fan Club, who told an interviewer in 1999 that the dog in question was not a Chihuahua at all, but rather, a “schnoodle” (half schnauzer, half poodle) named “Cheers.” When Shatner callously laughed at Cheers’ demise, Kelley didn’t talk to him for “two months.” 

Wow. Shatner using his friend’s dead dog to make Trekkies laugh for half a century while fucking up nearly all of the important details is somehow way worse than laughing about its death in the first place. 

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