THE MAINE COON CAT
What is a Maine Coon? Well, let's start with the name.
The name 'Maine' comes form the North Eastern American State where the breed is thought to have originated. The 'Coon' bit is a little more difficult. The original cats tended to be brown tabbies, with very dark back and a long flowing tail, rather like a racoon, and long ago, people thought that they must have evolved from matings between domestic cats and racoons. Of course we now know that this is genetically impossible, but this may have been where the name came from.
In fact there are lots of legends surrounding the Maine Coon's origins, including one that they originally came from Marie-Antionette, and were transported to America from France for safety when things started heating up at the time of the french revolution. However, it is far more likely that the Maine Coon actually evolved from matings between domestic shorthairs introduced by early settlers and angora types later taken across the Atlantic by seafarers. This is where Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest comes into play and only the best of the breed survived, mating to produce a hardy animal, capable of living in a cold harsh climate. I am pleased to say that man's heavy hand has not altered the breed and the cat's appearance has remained virtually unchanged since its beginning.
The Maine Coon was originally the American wild cat, living mainly on farms where it was held in high esteem by farmers for its ability to catch vermin. The cat has all the points of a typical hunter. It has large eyes and ears, essential for detecting prey, and a big, muscular body for catching them. Being a cold climate animal, it has a long silky shaggy coat, short over the head, becoming longer own the back, stomach, legs and ruff. This is not for beauty, but for sheer survival. There is a soft undercoat, covered by a harsher weatherproof topcoat to keep the animal dry. This must not be fluffy, like a Persian type, otherwise he may become entangled in hedges whilst out hunting. The shagginess acts rather like layers of newspaper to wrap up fish and chips, it traps air which helps to keep the animal warm.
The legs must be long, thick and powerful, the feet should be large and round, tufted underneath going backwards to form a 'snowshoe' effect, again for coping with the harsh winters. He must also have large feathered ears, preferably tufted at the tips - unlike the Persian - and feathering should extend beyond the outer edges of the ear. The frontal ruff should start at the base of the ears, and is normally heavier in males than females. All this is to prevent heat loss. The Maine Coon's coat is very seasonal, and much can be lost in the summer months, particularly with un-neutered animals.
But the Maine Coon's pride and joy is his tail. In fact he is often referred to as 'the tail with the cat on the end'. The tail must be at least as long as the body and is especially long so that the cat can wrap it around its body rather like a blanket for extra insulation.
So, this is why the Maine Coon looks this way. Because it has evolved naturally, that is why many mistake it for a moggie, after all they have evolved in the same way. But, believe me, once you've seen a few, you begin to recognise the differences.
The Maine Coon takes 3-4 years to finish growing, and people expect to see a giant cat sitting in a pen, when at fifteen months he's still only a baby. Fully grown females average 7-12lbs and males 10-18lbs. Granted, a few do reach the 20's but imagine stewarding at a show and having to cope with a two stone monster who barely fits in the pen and certainly doesn't fancy going back in once you've given him a taste of freedom! I for one wouldn't fancy too many of those to handle in a day.
People seem to have the impression that any possible colour combination is acceptable. First and foremost, chocolate, lilac or Siamese Points are definitely not permissible. This is because they are not natural colours to the area where the Maine Coon originated from. Most other colour combinations are accepted, but cats with white (known as bi-colours) aiming for the show bench must adhere to certain colour distributions. (See the GCCF Standard of Points for more details). Blue or odd eyes are only permissible in white cats.
In actual fact there are 64 colour combinations on the Maine Coon G.C.C.F. Standard of Points. These include solids. tortioseshells, tabbies (both Classic and Mackerel), tortie-tabbies, smokes and shadeds, all with or without white. Since the colour can take several months to fully develop, this can lead to headaches when registering kittens, as the colour you see at eight weeks may be completely different three months later as it develops. Coat colour and pattern are of less importance than coat type and texture.
Although it is relatively new to the British show bench, the Maine Coon has actually been shown in America since the 1860's, initially by local farmers at their own annual cat show at the Skowhegan Fair, and Maine Coons from all over the territory competed for the coverted title of "Maine State Champion Cat". This is an interesting fact since the first ever cat show in America is generally believed to have taken place at Madison Square Garden in 1895, some 35 years later. It was probably America's first cat show. Sadly popularity decreased with the import of the more flamboyant Persian at the turn of the century. It began to make a comeback in the 1950's, though interestingly enough, the Cat Fanciers Association (America's largest cat registering body) declared the Maine Coon to be extinct in 1959! Gradually the Maine Coon became accepted by all the American associations, and in 1976 it finally obtained full Championship Status with the CFA. It is now the second most popular breed in America. In the mid 1980's it began its influx into Britain. In 1988 the Maine Coon was granted Preliminary Status with the G.C.C.F. and in 1992 progressed to Provisional Status. Finally, on 1st June 1994, less than ten years after the first one arrived on our shores, the Maine Coon was granted full G.C.C.F. Championship Status. The breed is now firmly on the British map. It is now the fourth most popular breed being registered with the G.C.C.F..
Because of the way it has evolved, and the configuration of the Maine Coon, it should really have no more defects than an ordinary moggie. It is a natural mother, usually giving birth without too many difficulties, to a litter of about four kittens, though as many as ten have been known! Mother gives her babies everything, which means that she can take some time to return to full coat and in some cases, may never return to the show bench. Contrary to popular belief, any old stud cannot be used, and as with other breeds a mate must be chosen carefully to complement its partner. The amount of white on the body must be taken into consideration, as the white spotting gene adds up and if two cats with a large amount of white are mated, then the kittens may be born with a white pattern distribution that may renders them unshowable within GCCF. As with most kittens, they are active, playful and very attractive. the typical Maine Coon points begin to show early on, with the big ears and outsize paws. Because of the enormous colour range, each kitten in a litter, may well be a different colour.
Maine Coons are the clowns of the cat world, with a rather quiet but extrovert personality. They normally adapt to new surroundings with the greatest of ease, taking one look at any other felines as if to say "Hi, I'm here and I'm stopping". They are in general, highly intelligent, but a dripping tap can turn them into idiots, as they happily spend hours catching drops, without realizing that they're slowly starting to resemble a drowned rat. The great mystery of "Where does melting ice go to?", is another problem they try to solve - without much success! The Maine Coon is a very affectionate creature. He adores attention but is not overly demanding, and though he will happily be loved by any member of the household, he does tend to choose one particular person, on whom to bestow most affection. Also known for sleeping in the most weird positions and places (probably originating from the days when he slept rough in barns), perhaps the most unique thing to the Maine Coon is the noise he makes. Rather than the standard meow, this cat "chirps", a noise which is difficult to describe but one heard is never forgotten!
So what are the pros and cons of choosing a Maine Coon as a pet? Well, advantages include a highly intelligent, affectionate, and not overly demanding cat which adapts to new situations. The evolution has developed a hardy animal, with very few defects. The coat is relatively easy to maintain, and because of the colour and pattern combinations, no two are ever the same.
There is one major disadvantage to living with a Maine Coon - one cat is never enough, and before long you'll be looking for another one!