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Meet Max, the cat who lost the library but won the Internet

Max, an aspiring library cat in St. Paul, Minn., spent time outdoors before his grounding. (Courtesy of Connie Lipton/Instagram)
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The story of Max the cat has already been written — simply, succinctly and perfectly. Here it is:

This story, printed and taped onto a university library door in St. Paul, Minn., might have ended there. But as seen above, it got tweeted. It also got Tumblr-ed. And Reddit-ed. And because the Internet loves cat characters — and has a special fondness for those known as library cats — the story of 3-year-old Max exploded Wednesday. (In some online corners, anyway; it was a heavy news day.)

Having been shooed away from the Macalester College library, Max sprinted straight toward Internet fame.

The people wanted a children’s book. Someone dashed off text in rhyme:

Someone else made the cat a library card:

Many literary and feline puns were proffered. “Discrimination against cats. I’m Max’s lawyer and he is filing a catsuit,” one Reddit user wrote, prompting other users to respond with edits: clawsuit, pawsuit, gnawsuit, littergation. Max’s favorite books, yet other Redditors said, must be “Catlas Shrugged” or “Nineteen Eighty-fur.”

But like all cat tales, Max’s has a backstory. Here it is:

Max spent time on the streets as a young cat, so he learned to roam early on. About a year ago, he was adopted at a shelter by Connie Lipton, who lives across a small street from Macalester, where Lipton’s husband teaches religious studies. Max made very clear that he wanted to continue roaming, Lipton said in an interview Wednesday, so they let him.

And roam he did, making friends across campus. Last summer, Max hung out at a reunion event that featured live music and a large tent. He enjoyed spending time on a vast green where students play Frisbee. He frequented student housing down the street, entered the science building more than once, and stopped by the Spanish and Portuguese department.

“We’ve had multiple calls because his phone number is on his tag,” Lipton said. “He’s a funny guy. He loves people. He loves to socialize — with groups.”

But when Max began entering the library, zipping by students whose arms were loaded with books, “he started getting in trouble,” Lipton said. This is how one librarian described it:

An employee is very allergic to cats, and some people worried Max would get locked inside, Lipton said, so a handwritten sign announcing his banishment was posted about a month ago. It was replaced more recently with the version that went viral this week, which was made by an artist and library employee named Christopher Schommer.

Schommer, whose library duties include signage, said he spotted the original shortly after returning from a 12-week parental leave during which he’d done lots of reading to his toddler daughter. “I thought, ‘Well, I should fix that,’” he said. “I spent 10 minutes making the sign and writing it like I was telling it to my three-and-a-half-year-old.”

The cat illustration he used came from The Noun Project, an online collection of free symbols and icons. Schommer said he’s since contacted the artist, Gamze Genc Celik, and they are now planning to turn the sign into — you guessed it — a children’s book.

“I’m sure 200 people are also doing the same thing,” Schommer said.

The sign recently came down, Lipton said, because Max’s roaming privileges have been revoked. A major construction project is happening on campus, and she didn’t want the cat to somehow get stuck in its mess. He now has a red harness and a leash, not that he’s happy about it.

“He’s going crazy. He cries and howls and paces around, looking out the windows,” Lipton said. “I’m really hoping he takes to walking on the leash. Then I can just walk him over there and he can still see his peeps and have his social life.”

Max’s online social life, meanwhile, has mushroomed. On Wednesday morning, the Instagram account Lipton runs for Max and her other cat, Gracie — who is timid and “doesn’t want to be in the limelight” — had 135 followers. It had nearly 2,400 as of midday Thursday. Lipton said she is thinking of having Max trained as a therapy cat so that he can continue to please the crowds.

“I’ve told him,” Lipton said of Max’s fame, adding that she hopes his followers will be content with photos of the cat in his harness. “He’s very puffed up about it.”

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