MEDFORD — At first glance, the resident feline at veterinarian Shannon Sierra's Best Friends Animal Clinic seems like any other orange tabby spending his day managing a busy office.

MEDFORD — At first glance, the resident feline at veterinarian Shannon Sierra's Best Friends Animal Clinic seems like any other orange tabby spending his day managing a busy office.

He wanders the hallways inspecting strange sounds, grooms himself in his favorite chair and doles out attention to humans he deems worthy.

A second look, however, is usually a bit surprising to those who first meet Max.

Born without eyes and teeth, Max is a perfect testament to the nine lives theory of cats. Sent anywhere else, his doting owner, Dr. Sierra admits, Max might have met a different fate.

Discovered on a ranch in White City two years ago running into inanimate objects, Max was slightly skittish at first.

"He was found wandering around by a lady who owned a ranch on Dodge Road. When we heard his story, we thought he must have been tortured," said Jan Whetstone, executive director of Committed Alliance to Strays (CATS), which agreed to take Max in.

One of two veterinary clinics used by CATS, Sierra determined Max had probably been born without eyes and teeth, and possibly a few other internal parts, due to a virus his mother likely had before his birth.

"At first, I figured he'd survive if he was cared for, but I didn't know what his quality of life would be like," Sierra said. "Then I spent some time with him and realized how well he gets around. He doesn't know he's handicapped. He just does what he needs to do and he does it really well.

"I figured out pretty quickly that I was the only one who was really having any issues."

Before Sierra "fell in love with Max," Whetstone said, staff at CATS posted a newspaper ad trying to find Max's former owners. Already an adult cat, they felt certain he must have "been loved by someone."

A handful of visits by Dr. Sierra to check on Max, Whetstone recalled, led to the inevitable.

"Dr. Sierra fell in love with Max and decided to adopt him," Whetstone said.

Two years later, the unlikely veterinary assistant spends his days working a 9-5 alongside his owner, and nights with Sierra's other six cats, a puppy and usually a slew of foster kittens from C.A.T.S.

His favorite activities include riding in the doctor's diesel pick-up truck, racing around and leaping mid-air inside an enclosed area in Sierra's backyard and perhaps wondering why the doctor has foam wrapped around all the legs of Sierra's furniture (for Max's protection of course).

He's on a regular dry food diet and dotes on foster kittens from CATS that appear regularly at his home.

One oddity that could be a clue about his earlier days, Max has an odd affection for bales of hay.

"It's the weirdest thing," Sierra said. "Whenever he gets around hay, you'd think it was catnip. A lot of cats like it but he has this huge attraction to it. He rubs all over it. He'd climb inside it if he could. Makes me think maybe he was raised around straw."

Likely born in a barn with no eyes or teeth, Max has done alright for himself, Sierra and Whetstone say.

"Most people, when they realize how he is, say, 'Oh my gosh, what's wrong with that cat?' As soon as they learn he was born like that there's always kind of a sigh like, 'Oh, poor guy.' But if they knew him they'd realize he's pretty darn happy."

Sierra saddens to think of the more likely path Max's life could have taken.

"If CATS hadn't found him, it could have been bad. Jan sees an animal that could be saved and have any quality of life and it's not even an option of whether they get to live. They take these cats that have medical issues and they tell us, 'Fix them up and we'll find them a good home,' " Sierra said.

Seeing Max two years after his rescue, Whetstone wonders how she could have done any less — not that Max needed much more than a place to call home.

"There's a saying we really like that says, 'Who can believe that there is no soul behind those luminous eyes?' " Whetstone quoted. "With little Maxwell you don't have to see his eyes. You can feel his soul."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.