This post first appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of the Houston Zoo members-only Wildlife Magazine.
Maximus, known to everyone as Max, is the official elephant barn dog at the Houston Zoo. A handful of zoos around the country boast having barn dogs, and while we’re not sure how this unlikely pairing began, we are happy to continue the tradition! These animals can help hone training techniques, help with herding, and provide companionship. But let’s focus our story on Max, the people-loving terrier mix who went from a hard beginning to a life of comfort and play.
On December 24, 2008, one of the Houston Zoo’s Keepers spotted a three-month-old Max along the side of the road. She picked up the pup and took care of him while looking for a permanent home for him. Around this same time, the elephant team was looking for a barn dog, and soon began the process of determining if Max would fit the bill.
Now four years later, Max is an integral part of the elephant team’s day-to-day routine and a part of the Zoo family. He keeps the elephant staff company as they clean the yard (by playing alongside them with his favorite ball), tests the waters in the elephant swimming pool (only during the hot summer months – when there are no elephants in it), and he even attends the occasional meeting. According to Martina Stevens, Elephant Manager, “Max has quite the social calendar.”
While he doesn’t enter elephant space unless the Keepers do, Max has a great relationship with his giant companions too. He is described by Martina as a very rule-oriented canine who likes to occasionally help the Keepers teach manners to Baylor and Tupelo. He has a special bond with these two youngest of the herd, and was in attendance for both of their births.
Make sure to look for Max next time you’re at the Houston Zoo. “Max has never met a person he didn’t like,” says Martina. We think that’s probably why Zoo guests and staff like him so much too.