Clinic cat on orders to Luke

  • Published
  • By Deborah Silliman Wolfe
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
During the past ten years, the Luke Air Force Base Veterinary Clinic has seen six civilian and military veterinarians come and go, as well as countless veterinary technicians and other workers. But there has been a constant presence at the vet clinic over the past decade, and his name is Max.

Max, a 21-pound gray tabby cat, was brought into the vet clinic July 1999 after he was discovered in a gutter.

"He was a six-week-old kitten when he arrived," said Joan Seifert, 56th Force Support Squadron veterinary clinic office clerk and retired Air Force Strategic Air Command emergency actions controller. "Nobody called and said they were missing a kitten, so he hung out here and we decided to make him our clinic cat. We got him neutered and declawed in the front, and he has been living here for the past ten years."

When Max first started his duties as clinic cat, he would roam the office all day, interacting with pets and their owners. He would even help the staff with some of their more difficult patients.

"We had a chihuahua in here one day, and we were trying to get him into a cardboard carrier," Ms. Seifert said. "Every time we tried to put him in the box, the chihuahua would try to bite us. Max must have heard us struggling, so he came running around the corner and batted the chihuahua in the face. The dog was so baffled, we were able to close the carrier."

And don't think Max will only protect his coworkers from small pets, he has taken on animals twice his size.

"Earlier this year, I was outside just before the sun came up," Ms. Seifert recalled. "I was looking for Max and started to walk out toward the parking lot when I saw what I thought was a dog trotting toward me. All of a sudden, as the 'dog' got close, I saw it was a coyote. I started backing up toward the door. By that time, Max had spotted the coyote. He let out a shriek, puffed up and took off after him. I screamed, 'No, Max, no!,' but he just took off after it and came in a few minutes later looking like, 'It's ok, I took care of it.'"

In batting the chihuahua and fending off the coyote, one could say Max was just doing his job as he is on official Army orders to Luke to provide "Fat Cat Security and Pest Control." He also searches out lizards, spiders or any other pests that are brave enough to roam in or around the clinic building.

"He is on a calorie-controlled diet, but he supplements it pretty good with all the lizards he catches and eats," Ms. Seifert said.

Though Max is a perfect bodyguard and exterminator at the vet clinic, he also plays an important role in base public relations. At least once a week an Airman, family member or civilian will come to the clinic asking if the staff still has, "that big cat."

"We had a colonel from the Aerospace Medical Squadron call up and ask if Max was available because he wanted to bring his family over to see him," Ms. Seifert said. "I told him I would check his schedule and of course Max was free. The colonel brought his family over to see him."

The vet staff recalled a little girl who lived on base.  Her family didn't have pets, so her father would bring her to the clinic to play with Max. Other Luke members bring their cameras and snap photos of him.

"He plays into it when he knows he is getting attention or when people come and take photos," said Michaela Debelius, 56th FSS veterinary technician. "He loves it."

Debelius' husband, Staff Sgt. Ralph Debelius, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Air Ground Equipment mobility manager, visits Max every day.

"I am a big cat person and he increases my morale on a daily basis," Sergeant Debelius said. "He is really friendly, and he has this kind of feisty attitude. He has a lot of personality and is great for a good laugh."

Max has not only charmed active-duty Airmen, he also made friends with a few of the military working dogs who are housed right next to the kennel. When MWD Kisma, 11, comes over for an appointment, Max will jump up on the table right beside him and cuddle up.

Kisma's handler, Senior Airman Steven Bruner, 56th Security Forces Squadron MWD handler, says he has never seen anything like Kisma and Max's relationship before.

"They told me before I came over here for the first time, that Kisma was pretty friendly with the cat," he said. "I was surprised."

Max has grown and changed with the clinic over the years. Now, instead of roaming the clinic freely, Max has a large, fenced area in the back of the building where he can hang out.

"If we have him out on a clinic day, when customers start to come in I say 'OK Max, come on in the back,' and he comes," Seifert said. "Cats are trainable. It takes a lot of patience and they have to want to do it, but he listens better than a lot of people's dogs do."

Max would be offended if he knew he was compared to a dog, but he does seem quite canine-like as he sits at the front door of the clinic waiting to be let in.

"He sits there and meows until you let him in," Mrs. Debelius said. "And he meets us every day at the door to say good morning."

It is obvious that Mrs. Debelius and Ms. Seifert love Max, but there have been those who didn't like having him around.

Companion. Protector. Friend. All these words describe Max, who over the past decade has not only made an impact on those he works with, but with many of the members of the base community. So, if someone has the urge to scratch behind the ears of a feisty cat, or is looking to learn some lizard control techniques, stop by the Luke vet clinic and visit Max.