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Maine Coon

Maine Coon

Place of origin

New England, United States

History

There are a plethora of folktales about the Maine Coon's origin. The breed's modern name reflects folklore that the breed resulted from crossing raccoons to cats, something that is genetically impossible. Then there are the stories that claim Maine Coons, as evidenced by their tufted ears and large size, are hybrids between domestic cats and bobcats or lynxes. Other tales speak of Vikings, in the tenth century, taking Skogkatts (Norwegian Forest Cats) to North America, where the cats bred with small native cats. However there were no small native cats in North America, and recent genetic studies have found that the Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat are not closely related.

Another story is that sailors from New England Silver tortie tabby LaPerm returned home with Angora cats from Turkey in the late seventeenth century or that the doomed Marie Antoinette sent her Turkish Angora cats to safety in the United States in 1793 and that they interbred with the local shorthaired domestic cats. Slightly more plausible is the story of Captain Charles Coon whose preference for longhaired ship's cats led to longhaired "Coon's Cats" appearing in dockyard feral populations up and down the East Coast.

The prosaic truth is the that "Maine Cat" is descended from longhaired and shorthaired cats who arrived in New England with Western European explorers and as ratters on trading ships between the Old and New Worlds. This is upheld by recent genetic studies that found the Maine Coon to be related to British Shorthairs. The rugged longhaired cats of Scotland, Norway, and Russia may have contributed to its ancestry, with the later addition of Persians and Angoras, which interbred with the local cat population. Several early cat fanciers in North America mentioned the arrival of blue-eyed white longhaired cats during the nineteenth century; these arrived at East Coast seaports on ships from Europe and either jumped ship or were traded with local cat lovers.

This was a "working breed" of cat who survived for generations outdoors in the harsh New England winters. Over the years, the cats were known by a variety of names, most alluding to their raccoonlike appearance or to their heavy, weather-resistant coat: Coon Cat, Maine Trick Cat, American Shag, American Snughead, and American Forest Cat.

By the 1880s, Maine Coons were being regularly exhibited in local cat shows, with some winning cats tipping the scales at 20 pounds (9 kg), and Maine was becoming well-known to cat fanciers for its brown tabby longhairs. Silvers, smokes, and chinchillas were then rare in the Maine Coon. A brown tabby female named Cosie won Best Cat at the Madison Square Garden Show in New York in 1895. Many of the prize-winning cats of the 1890s resembled the early Persian in conformation.

Even early cat fanciers in Britain were aware of the "Maine Cat," although the breed wouldn't arrive on British shores for another century. They were first recorded in American cat literature in 1861. In 1889, Harrison Weir (or rather one of his American correspondents) described Maine Cats in his book Our Cats and All About Them as "neither Persian, Angora, nor Indian. They are called here ‘Coon' Cats, and it is vulgarly supposed to be a cross between a common Cat and a ‘Coon.'"

BiblePhotographs sent to Weir showed a cat with unusually large ears, large legs, and large feet. They had very bushy tails and a fine neck ruff. Colors included solids, bicolors, and tabbies; yellow was a popular color. There were no tufts between the toes and a considerable frill at the neck. The eyes had a wild, staring expression, and the tail was long and like a fox's brush. Weir considered the breed worthy of attention, although no one seemed interested enough to import these cats into Britain.

Maine Coons warranted a section in English writer Frances Simpson's Book of the Cat in 1903, but three years before American cat writer Helen Winslow had given only a brief nod to the handsome "coon cat" in Concerning Cats-just enough to mention the cat's size, thick woolly fur, and bushy tail. She said these Maine cats were so fond of outdoor life that they became savage and disagreeable if confined indoors. When allowed their freedom, however, they were affectionate and intelligent. The problem was that Maine Coons were so commonplace in their own region that they had not aroused any great enthusiasm until the craze for longhaired cats struck.

However, the breed's popularity as a show cat declined when Persians from Britain and Europe arrived in the United States. Overshadowed by imported Persians, the homegrown Maine Coon found itself largely relegated to the role of pet. As a result, the Maine Coon had almost vanished from cat shows after 1910, and its decline within the cat fancy was so serious that, by the 1950s, the breed was considered extinct.

Luckily, the breed was down but not out, and there were still Maine Coons around when cat fanciers began to take a serious interest in the breed in the 1950s. Breeders started to record pedigrees for these homegrown cats, accepting foundation cats based on appearance. In 1965, the first breed standard was created, and the Maine Coon was promoted as a respected pedigree breed. The cat first achieved breed recognition in 1967, and by 1980, all major American registries recognized the Maine Coon breed. In addition to registry recognition, the Maine Coon became the state cat of Maine in 1985.

In 1953 or 1954, a pregnant female Maine Coon was imported into Austria. These cats were originally known in Europe as American Forest Cats. The first Maine Coons were imported into Britain in 1984, and the breed was recognized by the GCCF in 1988. Their gentle disposition, large size, and adaptability resulted in exploding popularity overseas as well, making them the second most popular breed in the world-a far cry from the breed being considered extinct. When self-proclaimed "dog people" are unwillingly dragged into cat show halls by their cat-loving family members, they are frequently drawn to the big, friendly Maine Coons on display.

Physical description

The size of this breed is its most striking trait. The long fur adds to the perception of the immense size of a tall, muscular, big-boned cat with large, long bodies. Males commonly reach 13 to 20 pounds (6–9 kg), with females normally weighing about 9 to 12 pounds (4–5.5 kg). This is a slow developing breed, and individuals may not reach their full size until three to five years old.

The Maine Coon's shaggy, water-resistant coat is unique to the breed and evolved naturally to withstand the challenges of a cold environment. Big, round, tufted feet act as natural snowshoes. The long hair around the neck, stomach, and britches protect the cat against rain and snow, and the shorter fur on the back and top of the neck guards against tangling in the underbrush. The cat buries her nose into her long, bushy tail during the chill of winter to protect her respiratory system from cold, dry air.

The head is slightly longer than it is wide, presenting a gently concave profile with high cheekbones and ears that are large, wide at the base, moderately pointed, and well tufted inside. They are set well up on the head, approximately an ear's width apart. The ears are heavily furnished (referring to the presence of fur inside the ear), and the tips of the ears may have long fur, known as "lynx tips." Their large, oval eyes are set at a slightly oblique angle and give these cats a unique expression. The relatively long, rectangular, strong muzzle is perfectly designed for hunting.

Colors and varieties

Maine Coons are registered in all almost colors and patterns, including silvers. Brown tabby is perhaps the most iconic of the Maine Coon colors. Colorpoints, sepia, and mink patterns are not recognized because these indicate crossing to other breeds. Likewise, chocolate, lavender, and ticked tabby are not allowed. Eye color ranges from green to gold. Blue eyes and odd eyes (one blue and one gold or green eye) are allowed in white and "with white" colored cats.

Temperament

Maine Coons are friendly, relaxed, people-oriented cats, but they do not constantly demand attention of their owners. They tend to prefer being next to, rather than on the laps of, their owners. They are excellent companions, tolerant of other pets, and known for being especially patient with children. Many Maine Coons love exploring water, such as a running faucet.

They maintain a playful, kittenish attitude throughout their lives. Males especially tend to be clownish at times, while females try to maintain an air of dignity. They are intelligent and athletic cats. Many Maine Coons enjoy playing "fetch" or learning to walk on a leash. They keep a watchful eye on all the activities of the house and like to be involved in these activities. They prefer groundbased toys that remind them of their breed's renowned prowess as mousers.

Activity level

Low to moderate

Vocal level

Very low; the quiet trill of the Maine Coon's voice is an amusing contrast to their large size.

Special needs

The coat is almost maintenance free; a weekly combing is all that is usually required to keep it in top condition. This coat varies according to season, being thicker during the winter months. Middle-aged cats may develop weight problems, which can usually be controlled by feeding a primarily wet-food diet. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to avoid the risk of hip dysplasia. When these cats are carried, they must be well supported by the chest and hips due to their large size.

Variations

The Maine Waves was a naturally occurring Rex-coated version of the Maine Coon. It arose by mutation in Britain in the 1990s, causing controversy among Maine Coon breeders. The cat fancy in the United Kingdom lacked the mechanism to register such mutations in existing breeds, and this attractive variety appears to have died out. Colorpointed Maine Coons occurred in Europe in the late 1970s; how the gene got into the breed has not been proven. Although controversial, they are attractive cats, hence Maine Coon Colorpoints are now being bred in France. Some breeders in the United States and elsewhere are working with the polydactyl trait (cats with more toes than normal) in this breed. This trait is commonly found in the native longhaired cat population.

Maine Coons are big cats!

Black Maine Coon kitten

Maine Coon

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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