By Gail Frew
Maine Coon Cats are the first pedigreed cats native to America and despite their size and ruggedness are often called the "gentle giants" of the cat fancy because of their loving nature.
The Maine Coon is a massive cat with a broad-chest and a long rectangular body covered with a long flowing coat. Its outstanding coat is a distinctive feature of the cat. The fur is short at the shoulders and long in the stomach and longer on the back legs. The coat is heavy and shaggy, an overall uneven-looking coat but silky to the touch. The tail is so long and full that when the Maine Coon takes a nap, he wraps himself up with it. The Maine Coon has five color classes: solid, tabby, tabby with white, party-color, and other Maine Coon Colors. Patterns include the classic tabby (marked in circles), the mackerel tabby (marked with stripes), and the patched tabby (splashes of red on the coat). Only females are patched tabbies.
Males average between 16 to 19 pounds, although some can weigh 20 pounds or more. Females are smaller, averaging between 8 to 12 pounds. The head is medium in width and length with a square-looking muzzle. The cheekbones are high and the chin is firm in line with the nose and upper lip. The nose is medium long with a slight concavity in the profile.
As a breed, Maine Coon Cats are gentle and loyal. They are strong, tranquil, and a pleasure to see and touch. They have easygoing temperaments that make them ideal family pets. They get along well with children and dogs. Depending on the breed of dog, the Maine Coon can be bigger than Fido. Maine Coon Cats are very sociable and enjoy helping their owners when they read by lying across the book or newspaper, bat at the pen when working a crossword puzzle or chase the thread while one tries to needlepoint or knit. They happily join the family in such pursuits as watching television, preparing dinner or even taking a shower.
The Maine Coon can be content with his own company and will pursue a variety of activities that he considers entertaining. Some of these activities include playing with toys, watching birds outside through the window, splashing in his water bowl, and of course sleeping, usually on your head.
These large cats have an interesting vocabulary, which includes not only the meow, but also a variety of cheeps, trills, and purrs. A truly affectionate Maine Coon will leap onto your lap to be petted then stand up, place his paws on your shoulders and butt his head against yours. Being a politically wise feline, he will do this with all family members. This intelligent, easy-going companion has become a great favorite with men who find these actions very appealing.
Grooming the Maine Coon Cat is relatively easy. The coat is simple to maintain with uncomplicated combing and brushing, several times a week. This will keep it looking silky and flowing. These five to ten minute sessions spent grooming the Maine Coon helps to prevent dreaded hairballs. Claws on all four feet should be clipped every 10 to 14 days (for show and non-show cats). The Maine Coon will use a scratching post when one is provided. Show grooming for the Maine Coon Cat also includes shampooing and conditioning the coat weekly, drying with a hair dryer, brushing and combing the coat out for its final presentation.
The Maine Coon's origins are shrouded in the mists of time and the legends told by their owners. Many people once believed the Maine Coon originated by interbreeding the American bobcat with the domestic cats brought to North America on the various sailing ships that came to the New England shores. Probably the tufted ears and feet of the Maine Coon, which are similar to the bobcat, gave some credence to this legend. The tufts curl outward from the inside of the ears; tufts of fur are also found between the toes. Taking fantasy one-step farther is the belief that the domestic cats of New England mated with raccoons. The early Maine Coons may simply have looked like raccoons to the natives, since the brown tabby, with its bushy ringed tail, occur most commonly in nature. Adding to the fantasy is the fact that the Maine Coon also converses with an endearing trill or chirp, somewhat like the cry of a young raccoon. However, it is genetically impossible for domestic cats to breed with either raccoons or bobcats because these are separate species and cannot crossbreed.
There are various other romantic versions of the Maine Coon's development that have been handed down over the years. The first involves Captain Samuel Clough and Marie Antoinette. Captain Clough was one of the principals (or so the legend goes) in a plot designed to smuggle the French queen out of France and bring her to Wiscasset, Maine. The scheme was cut short, but not before Clough had loaded his ship, the Sally, with the luxurious furnishings and accoutrements plus six of the queen's favorite longhaired cats. Sadly, Marie Antoinette was seized, and eventually beheaded. Captain Clough sailed with all haste to escape repercussions for his part in the attempted rescue and with him went the queen's possessions and the cats still in his care. It is assumed that the queen's cats bred with the American cats and voila -- the origin of the Maine Coon.
Still another legend concerns an English sea captain, improbably named Coon, who was excessively fond of cats. He sailed up and down the New England coast with his army of predominantly longhaired cats. When the captain went ashore, so did his cats. When longhaired kittens began appearing in local litters, the owner's comment would be "one of Coon's cats."
A more logical conclusion is that the Maine Coon developed from the domestic shorthaired cats of settlers who came to America with all their worldly goods and the family pet. Later, as the country became more civilized and the trading ships returned from their travels, the sailors returned with longhaired cats. The new longhaired cats in turn bred with the local shorthaired cats and began populating the eastern seaboard, and thus began the survival of the fittest. Those cats that survived the harsh New England winters produced the next generation of kittens.
It was to be expected that these intelligent cats would find their way into the settlers' homes and become beloved pets as well as good working mousers. It was during the 1860s that farmers would tell stories and brag about the powers and intelligence of their Maine Coons. During this decade, these same farmers began having their own cat show at the Skowhegan Fair where Maine Coons from all over the territory competed for the title "Maine State Champion Coon Cat."
Mrs. E.R. Pierce, who co-owned a black and white Maine Coon Cat, named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, documents the early history of domestic cats in the United States and of the Maine Coon Cat in particular. She not only gives names and dates of cat shows along the eastern seaboard, but also names the cats that won them. Mrs. Pierce states emphatically that large shows were held in all the populous eastern cities, with some held as far west as Chicago in the 1870s.
The most famous and largest of the early shows was held at New York's Madison Square Garden in May of 1895. A brown tabby male Maine Cat named Cosey owned by Mrs. E. N. Barker won that show. Cosey was awarded a silver medallion marked "National Cat Show, 1895," with a cat face in the middle, a silver cat collar engraved "National Cat Show, 1895, won by Cosey," and had his picture taken while wearing his collar ribbon marked "National Cat Show." The CFA Foundation purchased that silver collar, an important piece of cat fancy history, for its Jean Baker Rose Memorial Library housed at the CFA Central Office.
Beginning in the twentieth century, "show fever" hit the fancy, and cat shows began to spread from the Northeast to the Midwest and finally to the West Coast. At about the same time, the Cat Fanciers' Association, founded in 1906, was keeping the only breed record books we have of this period, The CFA Stud Book and Registry. In Book I, 28 Maine Cats, as they were still known, were listed under a special proviso that depended on a sworn statement that the sire and dam were the "same breed, long hair and that neither is a shorthaired." It is noteworthy that CFA Registration #5 is a tortoiseshell female Maine Cat named Molly Bond.
Soon after this, the Maine Coon Cat decreased in popularity as other longhaired cats with pedigrees came into greater favor. The Maine Coon had its last recorded victory for over 40 years when a "longhaired blue Maine Cat" took first place in his class and best of show in 1911. After that, Maine Coons slipped into the background and were shown occasionally under the Any Other Variety (AOV) category.
Remaining in the background during the next four decades, the Maine Coon Cat was declared extinct in the late 1950s. The Maine Coon's extinction, like Mark Twain's death, was an exaggeration.
In the early 1950s, the Central Maine Cat Club (CMCC) began an effort to end the Maine Coon's slide into a regional oddity and to give impetus toward record keeping and showcasing for the breed. The club sponsored shows and kept records as a means to call attention to all cats and the Maine Coon Cat in particular. Before the club's demise in 1963, its achievements included creating one of the first written standards for the breed, keeping records in the breeding of the Maine Coon, and making people aware that the Maine Coons existed and had credentials. People in other parts of the country were starting to breed and show Maine Coons as well as keeping them as pets. They were beginning to appear in the show halls from which they had disappeared.
In the 1960's, a group of Maine Coon Cat breeders created a club whose purpose was to preserve and protect the breed. This dedicated group of people had the will and determination to see the project through. These early "movers and shakers" were completely dedicated to the concept of the Maine Coon Cat.
During the early 1970s, Maine Coon breeders began the quest for CFA Provisional status. After two unsuccessful attempts for provisional status, the breeders were advised to form a breed club. Following this advice, the Maine Coon Cat Club was formed in 1973. In the spring of 1974, the breeders met all the requirements for recognition of the Maine Coon Cat as a provisional breed: they had a standard, a breed club and 133 cats registered.
The Maine Coon Cat was accepted for provisional status by the Cat Fanciers Association in May 1975. Championship status was confirmed in May 1976. America's Native American longhair was back on the show bench with championship status.
Since 1976 the Maine Coon Cat has been a rising star in both the competitive reaches of the cat fancy and as a companion in the home. This popular breed of the nineteenth century drifted into obscurity and imagined extinction only to re-emerge as the second most popular breed in the CFA registry today.
Maine Coons are well known for their loving nature, kindly disposition and great intelligence. They are sturdy, skilled working cats (with regard to their mousing talents). Maine Coon Cats are especially good with children and dogs, and are now a popular, and highly sought after companion, much-admired for their beauty and sweetness.
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This program is supported by
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
This program is supported by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.