To the Max

Catherine Graf
From the RMCA web site, November 2004

There was a pink-eyed white rat in a tank with a lot of other white rats who were going to be feeders. This boy wasn't worried. He knew he was destined for better things. When I showed up to get a new rat last July, he acted as if he'd been waiting for me. On the ride home, during which rat-naming usually takes place, I suggested Maximilien, name of saints and emperors. Maxim for the restaurant in Paris.

Naaaaaah. He likes to be called Max.

Young Max Max is without question the smartest rat I have ever had. In the picture he's contemplating a toy made of interlocking wooden pieces that has a treat locked inside. I thought it would be fun to put orange and green ChewStix, which look just like the puzzle pieces, between the others and see if Max could tell the difference. He ripped them out in seconds and for weeks this became his favorite game at night. Then I returned one evening to find Max had shredded the toy and devoured the treat. I bought him another one the next day with the same result.

After about a month, Max had more different toys and activities in his cage than most kids have in their rooms. Max grasped the point of everything right away. He would look at me as if to say, now what? I had never had a rat that got bored. While racking our brains for new challenges for him, Max found his own entertainment. He started biting. While few rats have this tendency, Max could have been the stunt double in Jaws. I use a leather glove to pick up these rats. Max bit a big hole in it. As he was getting to be a very big boy, he went to Dr. Haims for the next step.

Neutering usually takes care of the biting. Max didn't seem to notice anything was missing; he's one big testosterone factory. He could bottle it and sell it. I decided since he was so intelligent, we'd try talk therapy. And a plastic lipstick cover on my index finger when I had to pick him up. This was my dad's suggestion. Max listens intently when I talk to him. I started with the Freudian approach, discussing possible early childhood trauma (in a feeder tank, you bet). I went on to discuss with him why he should feel safe here, why Mommy isn't going to hurt him, and why Mommy is the Head Rat. I suggested he think about who makes the mortgage payments here. Lastly, I laid on him that he was a REAL GOOD BOY and Mommy really loved him, and she'd love it even more if he would stop with the shredder routine.

Talk therapy was actually working. Max came out with me to watch TV and had progressed to letting me pick him up in an old dish towel. Then the Yankees lost in the playoffs. Max, like his predecessor, Remy, was steamed. He had a whole list of people he wanted to bite. He was even more upset that I wouldn't give him train fare to the Bronx. I suggested he ask his doctor, who had also expressed his disappointment with the home team.

As baseball season ended, Max suddenly had a big breakthrough. I guess he realized that while his team would let him down, his mom never would. All of a sudden, he was in my lap, licking my hand, nibble grooming (yeah, not so hard, Maxie). He's a beautiful boy and I tell him he could be a show rat. He won't participate in the swimsuit contest, though.

We look forward to a long and happy time with Max. Don't let anyone tell you that a feeder rat can't make a good pet. Max has proved my maxim: NEVER GIVE UP ON AN ANIMAL.