19 July 2014

Story of an Awesome Cat

This is the story of an awesome cat.

Awesome cat, August 2007

He first came into our lives in January of 1998 when our friends Serg & Stef found him trotting down their rural New Hampshire road, meowing. He was estimated to be about 1.5 years old and had already been neutered, but no family came forward to claim him. We were introduced to him during the evening of Super Bowl XXXIII.

At the time, Corinne was living in a no-pets-allowed apartment. But she really wanted this cat. Having grown up with dogs and a cat-allergic father, I was not a cat person. But my apartment did not prohibit pets. So after several weeks of coaxing by Serg, Stef, and Corinne, the proverbial straw came when I discovered mice in my apartment. (I still have my suspicions that it was a setup.) Thus, I became a cat person.

We named that cat Max. Yes, it's kind of a boring name for a cat, and he was anything but a boring cat. We played around with other names, but none seemed to fit. Ultimately we named him after a popular song at the time, Kitty Kat Max. In our case, we decided that Max was short for Maximum. Since we didn't know his actual birthday, we celebrated it each Superbowl Sunday.

N.B. We've had Max for so long that our early photos of him are on what they used to call "film". We've had to dig through a closet full of photos for some of these. Enjoy.

Phase 1: City Cat
Max started his time as a city cat in my third floor apartment in Somerville, MA. I never saw mice in my apartment again.

Sharpening his killer claws, 1998

He had a series of adventures during his time as a city cat. My downstairs neighbor, who had a young son, used to steal him during the day while I was at work. I don't know how often this happened, but I came home early one day to discover him trapped in an unused stairwell between our two floors with the doors locked on both sides. I never did ask her about it. But I figured that Max was getting some extra attention, and he didn't seem to mind.

Somerville MA, 1998

For about a year, Max and I shared an apartment with our friend, Bryan. Max and Bryan used to play "can't get past me" where Bryan would try to fake out Max and catch him while he tried to get through a doorway. I don't think Bryan ever won, though he never stopped trying.

Max loved to sit on our shoulder, a bit like a parrot. Or at least like a four-legged parrot would.

The Parrot, 1999

Max would get "crazy eyes" right before he attacked you.


When Corinne and I got engaged in 1999, Max was already the third member of our family.

October 1999

Max would always greet us when we came home from work. In fact, he recognized the sound of my car and knew when we were home just by sound - an impressive feat on our busy city street. When we went on longer trips, he would scold us when we got home. I suppose he could have been telling us how much he missed us and was glad for us to be home, but that's not how it sounded.

Max was not a fan of sleeping in on the weekend; he used to wake us up by knocking something off the nightstand onto the floor. Corinne's ponytail bobbles could be easily picked up with his teeth, then dropped onto the hardwood.

Like most pets and children, Max didn't always pose well for photos.

Christmas 2001

Christmas 2001

Christmas 2002

In his early days, Max was not particularly social with others. He would usually hide under the bed or in the closet until about 30 seconds after any visitors had left. But he was social with us. His favorite holiday was Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2002

Is that turkey? Can I have some?

At night when we would get into bed to read, Max got into the habit of standing on our books for several minutes until he deemed that he had received enough attention that he could retreat to the foot of the bed to sleep.

December 2002

He liked to "help" whenever either of us were working.

June 2002

January 2003

City cat Max was a horrible traveler. When we would drive somewhere with him, he would invariably howl the entire time. On one particular trip from Boston to NJ, Max finally settled down after about 4.5 hours... which was approximately 15 minutes from the end of the trip.

January 2003

We did manage to teach Max a few "tricks." When food was involved, we could get him to sit on command. If it was a food he really liked, we could even get him to lay down on command, though that was much less consistent.

October 1999

He loved to sit in the window and watch the birds outside our apartment. So we thought he might like to spend some time outside. Against the general wisdom about cats, we tried to train him to take walks on a leash. We bought a harness that seemed to be his size and tried it out. To say that he didn't like it would be a gross understatement. As soon as there was the slightest bit of tension on the leash, he would start spinning and whirling Tasmanian-devil style. He managed to get out of the harness just about each time we tried it. We gave up.

October 2002

September 2003

Once while visiting in NJ, Max escaped through an open window upstairs and we found him quite a while later sitting on the roof. But Max would have to wait a few more years to spend any significant time outside.

December 2001

Phase 2: Country Cat
The next phase of Max's story began when we decided to move West in 2004.

Step one was to get this whiny traveler across the country. Since he was too big to fit under the airline seat - and would undoubtedly have howled for the entire flight anyway - we had to "check" him as baggage. The TSA doesn't use the X-Ray scanners on pet cargo, so the TSA agent had to remove him from his carrier and pat him down (to make sure that he wasn't a suicide cat, I guess.) And of course the best place to do that is in the main terminal of Logan airport in front of the ticket counters, where if he got loose he would be lost forever, right? Thankfully Max didn't get loose, and he survived the transcontinental flight. Several hours later we landed in Seattle and set off on the 4.5 hour drive to our new home.

Behind the kitchen sink, July 2004

After this epic travel day, Max turned a new leaf. Since that day he hasn't complained about traveling at all, no matter the distance.

November 2004

Many of Max's more recent exploits have been written about on this very blog. Here are some of our highlights.

At first, we weren't quite ready for him to become an outdoor cat. But only a few months after our arrival, Max got outside anyway. Max's escape was not in our plans, so we spent an entire day trying to coax him back inside using cardboard boxes and a garden hose.

It took a few years and a move to a more secluded location before we began letting Max outside on a regular basis. Max's first sanctioned trip outside was a new beginning for him.

May 2008

He even went outside in our winter snowstorms, at least at the beginning. Eventually he came to the conclusion that he was better off staying inside in front of the fire where it was warm.

December 2007

February 2008

Max learned quickly, though, that the outside isn't all sunshine and grass. One evening we found Max up a tree, probably chased there by a dog or coyote. We had to rescue him, though no firemen needed to be called. Only a few weeks after that incident, we witnessed a coyote hunting Max. Thankfully, the coyote was not successful.

A particularly traumatic event, for both us and Max, was when he was lost in Mosier for 3 days. Miraculously, Max came out of the incident just fine, and it was Leif who ended up with a severe case of poison oak from searching through the brush for him.

June 2008

Over time, Max became an excellent hunter. We began keeping his critter count each summer. His all-time record year was 2009 when he slayed 25 gophers including 3 in one day.

March 2008

June 2009

August 2010

For several weeks one November, Max became radioactive. But rather than give him new superpowers - as I assumed would happen based on movies and television - it seemed to significantly reduce his hunting tallies.

Phase 3: Max and Anders

August 2008, just 6 weeks before Anders's arrival

The third phase of Max's story with us came when his 'sibling' arrived, in the form of Anders. We weren't really sure what Max was going to think when we brought Anders home. Max had never really been around children much, and he also wasn't shy about defending himself if he thought he was in any danger. In their very first encounter, Max was confused by Anders, this little thing that was his size but like nothing he had experienced before. But to our great surprise, Max was as tolerant of little Anders as you could imagine.

May 2009

As Anders grew, the two of them became buddies.

November 2011

Anders "cooking" for Max, February 2010

As Anders began to speak, Max provided a live and (somewhat) willing subject for his anatomy lessons.

As I wrote back in 2011:

Anders loves Max, and Max will pretty much let him do anything to him: hugs, pets the wrong way, you name it. For a cat who at one time used to hide from just about everybody, this is pretty unexpected. After Anders was born, Max started to get more social with everyone; I think he realized that he now had some stiff competition for attention. But in reality, I think that it's a "win win".

Family music time, January 2011

June 2011

September 2011

February 2013

Phase 4: Old Max
Max aged. He slowed down considerably, and his excursions outside shortened to only a few minutes at a time. He slept.
He liked to sit between Corinne and I on the couch while we watched TV. He still sat on our books while we (tried to) read.

Alas, all good stories must come to an end, and Max's story is now complete. His kidneys failed, and his body just couldn't support him anymore the way he deserved. With many tears, we buried him along a trail at the edge of our forest.

July 2014

After 16.5 years together, our house doesn't quite feel the same anymore. We miss you, buddy.

- Mike, Corinne, Anders, and Max