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Myths, legends and lore surround the Maine Coon cat. Some are amusing, some are fantastic flights of fantasy and some are merely plausible. They certainly provide good material for conversation. Books and articles dealing with these aspects of the Maine Coon cat have been well received as people never seem to tire of the subject and are always eager to know more about this breed.
Origin[edit | edit source]
The Maine Coon is one of the oldest natural cat breed in North America originating in Maine. A journal article was published about the coon-cat of the late 1800s stating: "... all of them come from Maine, simply for the reason that the breed is peculiar as yet to that State." "Coon-cats have been recognized as a distinct breed in Maine for so long that the memory of the oldest inhabitant runs back to their beginning." "You will find them in almost any village in that part of the world." The Maine cat was recognized as a distinct breed of cat long ago and known as the "coon-cat" in the mid 1800s prior to the Civil War in recorded history and documented early descriptions of the Maine cat by a well known and celebrated Maine author who lived in that era prior to 1850.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, domestic cats brought over on ships faced very severe winters in Maine, where only the strongest and most adaptable cats survived. "Natural selection (and climate) has had a significant effect on (longhair/Maine Coon) gene frequency in the 200-300 generations since domestic cats were introduced to America." The Maine Coon developed outdoors into a large, rugged cat with a water-resistant, thick, longhair coat and a hardy constitution. The fur coat developed outdoors into a coat that is particularly unique and distinct from other long-hair breeds.
Folklore[edit | edit source]
The origin of the breed (and its name) has several, often untrue, folklore surrounding it - all coming from Mainers story-telling and dry sense of humor. One tale comes from this journal account of actual story-telling in 1901 by the down east locals.
"Strange to say, there are comparatively few people south or west of New England who know what a coon-cat is. If you ask that question `down in Maine,` however, the citizens will seem surprised at your ignorance, and will explain to you, in a condescending way, that the creature in question is half raccoon—the descendant of `a cross between a 'coon and a common cat.`" Though biologically impossible, this false story, was the result of Mainer's good old leg-pulling and gullible tourists. According to that 1901 account (as you can see), these cats were still referred to as "coon-cats".
A related story is that the cat was named after a ship's captain named Coon who was responsible for the cat reaching Maine shores. This story comes from a Mainer named Molly Haley (prior to 1820) as her oral history of the cat’s name that was published in this 1986 Maine newspaper article.
(Born 1911 Lida Tarbox) "Her father's account of the Maine Coon goes back to his great-grandmother, Molly Haley, who lived on the Haley farm next to the Tarboxe's, just up from the `pool,`or gut where the Saco River and the Atlantic Ocean meet. This was before Maine became a state (1820) and when the four-masted schooners hauled cargo to Maine from around the world.
A cabin boy named Tom Coon, from which the "coon" cat purportedly gets its name, worked aboard the sailing vessel Glen Laurie. One of his jobs when ashore was to collect cats, which were then used to rid the sailing vessel of wharf rats. On one of these rat-catcher expeditions, Tom smuggled in a beautiful longhair. The safe harbor for both the first coon and her subsequent litter was the Tarbox farm at Biddeford Pool, where the Glen Laurie anchored to take on supplies at the Cutts store at the Pool. When the cabin boy became a captain, he continued to bring the exotic long-hairs to the farm during his ocean voyages." (Documentation of a whaling Captain Coon and his ocean-going family exists in the Maine State Library.)
Another story is a legend from an island dwelling mainer that the breed sprang from pet cats that Marie Antoinette sent to Wiscasset, Maine when she was planning to escape from France during the French Revolution. This story is told in "The Legend of Rosalind of Squam Island".
Nevertheless, most breeders today believe that the breed originated in matings between perhaps pre-existing shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhairs, perhaps Angora types introduced by New England seamen, or perhaps longhairs brought to America by the Vikings. Maine Coons are similar in appearance to both the Norwegian Forest Cat and to the Siberian.
Personality[edit | edit source]
The Maine Coon is the native American longhaired cat and was recognized as a specific breed in Maine where they were held in high regard for their mousing talents and as the official state cat in 1985. Through nature’s own breeding program, this breed has developed into a sturdy cat ideally suited to the harsh winters and varied seasons of the region. The Maine Coon is well known for its loving nature, kindly disposition and great intelligence. Maine Coons are especially good with children and dogs and have always been a popular and sought after companion.
Appearance[edit | edit source]
The Maine Coon has always been admired for its beauty, and a Maine Coon was chosen Best Cat at the first major cat show ever held in this country. The transition from easygoing farm cat to CFA finalist was not an easy one, nor did it happen quickly. Although they lost favor and were conspicuously absent from shows for quite a long time, we are now seeing large classes of these beauties in most cat shows and it is not unusual for a Maine Coon to be named “Best Cat.” These beautiful cats come in all colors, divisions, and categories, especially orange tabby. Maine Coons are often regarded as the models of the cat world. A new variety of Maine Coon is the Maine Wave, or a Maine Coon with the rex mutatio
Breed description[edit | edit source]
Maine Coons are the largest breeds of domestic cat. Males weigh anywhere between 17 and 35 lb (7.7 and 16 kg) with females weighing between 15 and 33 lb (6.8 and 15 kg). The height of adults can vary between 10 and 16 in (25 and 41 cm) and they can reach a length of up to 40 in (100 cm), including the tail, which can reach lengths of up to 14 in (36 cm) and is long, tapering, and heavily furred, almost resembling a raccoon's tail. The body is solid and muscular, which is necessary for supporting their own weight, and the chest is broad. Maine Coons possess a rectangular body shape and are slow to physically mature; their full potential size is normally not reached until they are three years old, while most other cats take about only one year.
In 2010, the Guinness World Records accepted a male purebred Maine Coon named "Stewie" as the "Longest Cat" measuring 48.5 in (123 cm) from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.
The Maine Coon is a longhaired, or medium-haired, cat. The coat is soft and silky, although texture may vary with coat color. The length is shorter on the head and shoulders, and longer on the stomach and flanks with some cats having a lion-like ruff around their neck. Minimal grooming is required for the breed, compared to other long-haired breeds, as their coat is mostly self-maintaining due to a light-density undercoat. The coat is subject to seasonal variation, with the fur being thicker in the winter and thinner during the summer. Maine Coons, due to their large size, have larger claws. There have been cases of Maine Coons using their claws to grip into walls.
Maine Coons can have any colors that other cats have. Colors indicating hybridization, such as chocolate, lilac, the pointed, sepia or mink categories or the "ticked" patterns, are accepted by breed standards. The most common color seen in the breed is orange tabby. All eye colors are accepted under breed standards, with the exception of the occurrence of blue-colored or odd-eyes (i.e., two eyes of different colors) in cats possessing coat colors other than white, harlequin or van or blue eyes in colors other than pointed or mink.
Maine Coons have several physical adaptations for survival in harsh winter climates. Their dense water-resistant fur is longer and shaggier on their underside and rear for extra protection when they are walking or sitting on top of wet surfaces of snow or ice. Their long and bushy raccoon-like tail is resistant to sinking in snow, and can be curled around their face and shoulders for warmth and protection from wind and blowing snow and it can even be curled around their backside like an insulated seat cushion when sitting down on a snow or ice surface. Large paws, and especially the extra-large paws of polydactyl Maine Coons, facilitate walking on snow and are often compared to snowshoes. Long tufts of fur growing between their toes help keep the toes warm and further aid walking on snow by giving the paws additional structure without significant extra weight. Heavily furred ears with extra long tufts of fur growing from inside help keep their ears warm.
Many of the original Maine Coon cats that inhabited the New England area possessed a trait known as polydactylism (having one or more extra toes on the feet). While some sources claim that trait is thought to have occurred in approximately 40% of the Maine Coon population in Maine at one time, little evidence has been given to substantiate this claim. Polydactylism is rarely, if ever, seen in Maine Coons in the show ring since it is unacceptable by competition standards. The gene for polydactylism is a simple autosomal dominant gene, which has shown to pose no threat to the cat's health. The trait was almost eradicated from the breed due to the fact that it was an automatic disqualifier in show rings. Private organizations and breeders were created in order to keep polydactylism in Maine Coons from disappearing.
Maine Coons are known as the "gentle giants" and possess above-average intelligence, making them relatively easy to train. They are known for being loyal to their family and cautious—but not mean—around strangers, but are independent and not clingy. The Maine Coon is generally not known for being a "lap cat" but their gentle disposition makes the breed relaxed around dogs, other cats, and children. They are playful throughout their lives, with males tending to be more clownish and females generally possessing more dignity, yet both are equally affectionate. Many Maine Coons have a fascination with water and some theorize that this personality trait comes from their ancestors, who were aboard ships for much of their lives. Maine Coons are also well known for yowling, chattering, chirping, "talking" (especially "talking back" to their owners), and making other loud vocalizations.
Health[edit | edit source]
Maine Coons are generally a healthy and hardy breed and have evolved to survive the New England climate. The most severe threat is feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart disease seen in cats, whether pure bred or not. In Maine Coons, it is thought to be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. Middle-aged to older cats as well as males are thought to be predisposed to the disease. HCM is a progressive disease and can result in heart failure, paralysis of the hind legs due to clot embolization originating in the heart, and sudden death. A specific mutation that causes HCM is seen in Maine Coons for which testing services are offered. Of all the Maine Coons tested for the MyBPC mutation at the Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Lab at the College of Veterinary Medicine located at Washington State University, approximately one-third tested positive. Not all cats that tested positive will have clinical signs of the disease and some Maine Coon cats with clinical evidence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy test negative for this mutation, strongly suggesting that a second mutation exists in the breed. Ultrasound of the throat is thought to be a more reliable method for weeding HCM out of the Maine Coon population.
Another potential health problem is spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), another genetically inherited disease which causes the loss of the neurons in the spinal cord that activate the skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs. Symptoms are normally seen within 3–4 months of age and result in muscle atrophy, muscle weakness, and a shortened life span. A test is offered to detect the genes responsible for SMA.
Hip dysplasia is an abnormality of the hip joint which can cause crippling lameness and arthritis. The cats most commonly affected with hip dysplasia tend to be males of the larger, big-boned breeds such as Persians and Maine Coons. This is similar to the situation with dogs, but the relatively smaller size and weight of cats frequently results in symptoms that are less pronounced. X-rays submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) between 1974 and 2009 indicates that 24.1% of Maine Coons in the database were dysplastic. The Maine Coon is the only cat breed listed in the database.
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a slowly progressive disease that is possible among Maine Coons and was thought to plague only the Persian and Persian-related breeds. Symptoms typically occur around seven years of age and the effects are incurable. PKD generally leads to renal failure and is genetically inherited, so careful screening and testing are the only ways to prevent the disease from occurring.
References[edit | edit source]
- Bache, Rene. "Raising Cats," The Saturday Evening Post, 1/19/1901, p. 15.
- Simpson, Frances. The Book of the Cat. Cassell and Company Ltd., 1903; Ch. 3, Concerning Cats, 'coon-cat', pp.52-56. [LC Call No.: SF447.S62]
- Andrew T. LLoyd, Geographic distribution of mutant alleles (longhair gene) in domestic cat populations of New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
- Bache, Rene. "Raising Cats," The Saturday Evening Post, 1/19/1901, p. 15, . 2.
- "Coon-cat" name oral history: Bruce, Roberts, “Coon Cats”, Portland Evening Express newspaper, `we hear` column, 7/23/1986
- Google Book: Maine Writers Research Club, Maine My State, Rosalind of Squam Island (The Legend of Marie Antoinette's cats), p221, 1919.