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Mad Max

Laura Beil

Tri-City Tales Issue No. 9

From the day Max arrived at Tri-City Animal Shelter, the blue and gold macaw made sure that everyone always knew what kind of mood he was in. And most of the time, it was grumpy. No one could touch him without risking a bite from his oversized beak. Get too close, and he would spread his wings and hiss, his pupils dilating and contracting. Play music he didn’t like, and he would protest with a scream — an ear-splitting, I’m-being-eaten-by-zombies scream. 


For the record, Max is a hip-hop kinda guy.


He also had a short vocabulary, knowing words like “puppy” and “bye bye.” Max had lived for almost 20 years with his owner, who was in her 80s when she called the shelter and asked if they could care for him because she was having health problems. He never returned home. Sometimes he would hang out in the cat visitation room, greeting passersby, but usually he lived in the office of assistant manager Shelly Meeks, the only staff member he really took a liking to. (He did like one other, who fed him grapes as a peace offering.)


After almost two years, it became clear Max needed to find a permanent home. Meeks asked Sharon Fábrega, a longtime shelter volunteer, if she would be interested in adopting him. At the time, Fábrega’s wife Sheila Harrington was an animal services officer, so she would see Max occasionally, and was well aware that he was, as she puts it, “pretty much demon spawn.” But Fábrega had experience with exotic birds and loved them; spending part of her childhood in Panamá, her family often had pet parrots. She also knew that adopting Max would be a long-term commitment, as the birds can live for decades.


The day she brought Max home, Fábrega perched her new feather baby in the shower and sprayed him down. She knew the water would instinctively prompt him to catch up on some much-needed grooming. But also, Max needed to know who was boss. She thought of him like a teenager, a petulant adolescent who needed rules and boundaries to be the best version of himself. 


Almost instantly, he transformed from mad to mellow. Today, he’s into kisses, not nips. He likes to be scratched behind the ears. He hangs out on the top of the sofa. He plots to steal bites of food from the dog bowl—or their dinner plates. When a phone rings, he says “hello.” When he wants attention he says “HEL-LO-O!” like a teenager giving an eyeroll—the only trace of a bad attitude that remains. 

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