The Maine Coon America's Native Longhair

By Mike and Trish Simpson

One of the oldest natural breeds in North America, the Maine Coon is generally regarded as a native of the state of Maine (in fact, the Maine Coon is the official Maine State Cat).

[Maine Coon Cat]A number of attractive legends surround its origin. A once wide-spread, though biologically impossible, belief is that the breed originated from matings between semi-wild, domestic cats and raccoons. This myth, bolstered by the bushy tail and the most common coloring (a raccoon-like brown tabby) led to the adoption of the name "Coon Cat" which eventually was changed to "Maine Coon Cat." Another popular theory on the origin of the Maine Coon is that it sprang from the six pet cats which Marie Antoinette is said to have sent to Wiscasset, Maine when she was planning to escape, with the help of New England seaman Captain Clough, from France during the French Revolution. In fact, the house that Capt. Clough was said to have built for her still stands across the Sheepscott river from Wiscassett in Edgecomb, Maine.

Most breeders today believe that the breed originated in matings between preexisting shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhairs (perhaps Angora types introduced by New England seamen, or longhairs brought to America by the Vikings).

First recorded in cat literature in 1861 with a mention of a black and white cat named "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines," Maine Coons were popular competitors at early cat shows in Boston and New York. A brown tabby female named "Cosie" won Best Cat at the 1895 Madison Square Garden Show.

Unfortunately, their popularity as show cats declined with the arrival in 1900 of the more exotic Persians. Although the Maine Coon remained a favorite cat in New England, the breed did not begin to regain its former widespread popularity until the 1950's when more and more cat fanciers began to take notice of them, show them, and record their pedigrees. In 1968, six breeders formed the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association to preserve and promote the breed. Today, our membership numbers over 1200 fanciers and 200 breeders. By 1980, all registries had recognized the Maine Coon, and it was well on its way to regaining its former glory.

Maine Coons were well established more than a century ago as a hardy, handsome breed of domestic cat, well equipped to survive the hostile New England winters. Nature is not soft-hearted. It selects the biggest, the brightest, the best fighters, and the best hunters to breed successive generations. Since planned breedings of Maine Coons are relatively recent and carefully monitored, these cats still have their strong, natural qualities. Maine Coons are healthy, disease-resistant, rugged cats. Interestingly, the breed closest to the Maine Coon is the Norwegian Forest Cat which, although geographically distant, evolved in much the same climate, and lends credence to the theory that some of the cats responsible for developing the Maine Coon were brought over by the Vikings.

Everything about the Maine Coon points to its adaptation to a harsh climate. Its glossy coat, heavy and water-resistant, is like that of no other breed, and must be felt to be truly appreciated. The coat is longer on the ruff, stomach, and britches to protect against wet and snow, and shorter on the back and neck to guard against tangling in underbrush. The coat falls smoothly, and requires little maintenance ?a weekly combing is all that is usually required to keep it in top condition. The long, bushy tail which the cat wraps around himself when he curls up to sleep can protect him from cold winters. His ears are more heavily furred (both inside and on the tips) than most breeds for protection from the cold, and have a large range of movement. Big, round, tufted feet help them negotiate uneven terrain and serve as "snow shoes." Their large eyes and ears are also survival traits, serving as they do to increase sight and hearing. The relatively long, square muzzle facilitates grasping prey and lapping water from streams and puddles.

Although the Yankee myth of 30-pound cats is just that, a myth (unless the cat is grossly overweight!), the Maine Coon is one of the largest domestic breeds. They are tall, muscular, and big-boned; males commonly reach 13 to 18 pounds, and females normally weigh about 9 to 12 pounds. Add to that two or three inches of winter coat, and people will swear that they're looking at one big cat.

Maine Coons develop slowly, and don't achieve their full size until they are three or four years old. Their dispositions remain kittenish throughout their lives; they are big, gentle, good-natured goofs ?the gentle giants of the cat world. Even their voices set them apart from other cats; they have a distinctive, chirping trill which they use for everything from courting to cajoling their people into playing with them. Maine Coons love to play, and many will joyfully retrieve small items. They rarely meow, and when they do, that soft, high-pitched voice doesn't fit their size!

The important features of the Maine Coon are the head and body shape, and the texture and "shag" of the coat. 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. Lynx-like tufting on the top of the ears is desirable. The neck should be medium-long, the torso long, and the chest broad. The tail should be at least as long as the torso. One of their most distinctive features is their eyes, which are large, round, expressive, and set at a slightly oblique angle. Overall, the Maine Coon should present the appearance of a well-balanced, strongly-built, rectangular cat.

Throughout their history there has been no restriction on the patterns and colors acceptable, with the exception of the pointed Siamese pattern. As a result, a wide range of colors and patterns are bred. Eye colors for all coat colors range through green, gold, and hazel (green-gold). Blue eyes and odd eyes (one blue eye and one gold, green, or hazel eye) are also permissible in white cats. There is no requirement in the Maine Coon Standard of Perfection for particular combinations of coat color and eye color. The only color-related restrictions in Maine Coons intended for breeding are buttons, lockets, or spots on any solid color (tabbies or non-tabbies without white), and deafness in white cats.

Many people consider Maine Coons the perfect domestic pets, with their clown-like personalities, very affectionate natures, amusing habits and tricks, willingness to "help" with any activity, and easily groomed coats. They make excellent companions for large, active families that also enjoy having dogs and other animals around. Their hardiness and ease of kittening make them a satisfying breed for the novice breeder. For owners wishing to show, the Maine Coon has reclaimed its original glory in the show ring. Welcome a Maine Coon into your home, and you will join the thousands who sing the praises of this handsome and lovable cat!

 

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