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HISTORY OF A MAINE COON 


The Maine Coon is North America’s oldest native breed of cat, but cats are not native to America. There are many legends as to how they first originated ranging from the absurd to the theoretically possible.

The absurd is that the MAINE COON arose from the cross mating of a cat and a raccoon. This would account for the large, ringed tail but is genetically impossible.

There is also the possibility of matings between domestic cats and native wildcats. This could certainly happen and looking at the feral features of the Maine Coon, especially the lynx tipped ears and the “go ahead, make my day” look on their face is a valid theory.

Viking LongboatThere is evidence that the Vikings discovered North America long before Columbus and had established settlements in the New England area. They would very likely have brought their “Skoggkats” with them to keep down vermin both on board ship and in the new homesteads. The Maine Coon is very similar to the Norwegian Forest Cat; they are both semi-longhaired, with a heavy, waterproof coat. The Maine Coon is slightly larger and has a broader, less pointed face. These early Maine Coons would have run free in the dense forests of New England and Maine and remained long after the Vikings gave up living there. They did not give up their friendship with man however and it was later reported by early settlers in their journals that the local indians had packs of hunting cats. These cats soon moved onto the farms, hunting vermin in the barns which provided a comfortable and safe environment for them to raise their kittens.

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Marie AntoinetteThe “French Connection” is another popular legend. It is well known that Marie Antoinette was a great cat lover and had been given some longhaired cats (either Persians, Norwegians or Angoras) as pets. When she was planning to escape from the horrors of the French Revolution she arranged for her belongings, including her cats, to be sent to Wiscasset, Maine on board ‘The Sally’, captained by Samuel Clough. Unfortunately Marie Antoinette did not manage to escape but her cats did make the journey and, as the story goes, bred with the local cats and passed on their genetic traits.

Sailing BarqueNew England was primarily a maritime area and there would have been a large amount of sea-going traffic. Nearly every ship carried cats to keep down the rat population and it is more than possible that they would take “shore leave”, meeting cats brought directly over from Europe with the settlers, making a very broad gene pool from which the modern Maine Coon would evolve. There is the story of a “Captain Coon” of Biddeford Pool, Maine, an Englishman/American/Chinaman (take your pick!), who sailed up and down the coast with his longhaired ship’s cats, but this is another legend to add to the list.

We must also not forget Mother Nature, who by her law of “the survival of the fittest” most probably had the largest part in fashioning the Maine Coon. It would have to be a certain type of cat to survive the harsh conditions of a North American winter and every generation would improve on the last. By the early 1800s the Maine Coon was well established on the local farms. It had become a large, robust cat well equipped to deal with the harsh winters. Its shaggy, waterproof coat kept it dry while the undercoat kept it warm. The coat was also very easy to keep tangle-free. It was perfectly adapted to hunting in a harsh climate. As well as the coat, it had large ears furnished with lynx tips and ear tufts to listen for prey. It had large, round eyes and a proper muzzle (as opposed to a short snout) for seizing and biting. The body was long and muscular and balanced by a thick, bushy tail, nearly as long as the cat to give perfect control when jumping or climbing. Long legs were useful to keep up out of the snow and large paws equipped with snowshoes could walk over drifts with no problem. The large body size helped to conserve heat and the long tail served as a warm wrap to curl up in and keep snug.

The cat was greatly prized by the farmers, some of whom, knowing a good thing, started to breed and then exhibit them at state fairs and livestock shows long before cat shows as we know them became popular. They were not officially called theMAINE COON, but were known as “shags”, “snugheads”, “Maine cats” or “coons”.

One of the first cats to be known by name is Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, a black and white “Maine cat” owned by Mrs F. Pierce around 1861 and mentioned in Frances Simpson’s The Book of the Cat (published 1903).

Postcard of a Maine Coon by C.E. Bullard, 1899Gradually the cat became better known and more popular and in the large urban cat shows of the 1870’s the Maine Coon is mentioned as a breed. Later the National Cat Show , held for six days from January 21st 1878 at Boston’s Music Hall had twelve Maine Coon cats listed in the program. In May 1895 the famous show held at Madison Square Garden was won by a brown tabby female Maine Coon called Cosie. The prestigious Boston show circuit was dominated by Mrs. Pierce’s brown tabby Maine Coon, King Max who won in 1897, ’98 and ’99 and was beaten by his son in 1900.

This period was the peak of the Maine Coons’ popularity because soon there was a flood of imported breeds from England and Europe and these new, exotic breeds quickly took over. The last recorded victory for a Maine Coon was at the cat show in Portland, Oregon in 1911 where a blue Maine Coon took first place in his class and best of show. After that the breed virtually disappeared and was shown occasionally in Any Other Variety or Miscellaneous categories.

For the next forty years the breed was kept alive by enthusiastic Maine families who continued to take pride in their cats and kept track of their lineage. One of the most important of these was Mrs. Ethelyn Whittemore of Augusta, Maine. She kept handwritten records of parents and progeny and was typical of those dedicated amateur breeders whose determined effort kept the breed alive over the years when little attention was paid to it elsewhere.

In 1953 Alta Smith and Ruby Dyer of Skowhegan, Maine started the Central Maine Cat Club (CMCC) which was intended to provide publicity and shows in which the Maine Coon was the star and not just a regional oddity. The first CMCC show was held on June 21st 1953 in a barn-theatre outside Skowhegan. It combined a photographic exhibition and cat show and attracted forty feline entries, twenty photographic entries and over two hundred spectators. The Club held shows using the same format over the next ten years. Show results and photographs were published in newspapers all over the U.S. keeping the Maine Coon in the public eye. The CMCC show grew bigger every year and the fifth show had over one hundred cats entered. The eleventh and final show was held in the Augusta Armoury. By 1963 the organisation had become too large to continue as an amateur concern and the choice was to become a large organised body or stop. Miss Smith (now Mrs. Barry) opted for stopping and the CMCC ceased to be.

By now the MAINE COON cat was on its way back. Dr. Rachel Salisbury, a breeder, judge and summer resident of Maine had already drawn up a standard by which MAINE COON could be judged for the CMCC’s fourth show in 1956. She officiated at shows and trained local judges. People outside the area began to realise the Maine Coon still existed as a breed and started to breed and show them in other parts of the country as well as keep them for pets. They were still shown under the Any Other Variety classifications but were beginning to be shown again in appreciable numbers.

In August 1968 six MAINE COON  breeders and owners met in Salisbury, Connecticut and formed the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA) the strongest force in the last stage of the Maine Coons’ comeback. They aimed to bring together everyone interested in the future of the Maine Coon and work for it’s re-recognition as a breed by the official show circuit. They placed as many cats as possible in shows, produced information packs to be handed out on request and published a quarterly newsletter called The Scratchsheet. They also came up with a unified standard acceptable to all MAINE COON breeders and registering bodies to qualify the Maine Coon for championship status once again. Five years later the Maine Coon had been accepted by all but one of the registering associations in North America. Over two thousand information packs had been sent out. Articles began appearing in newspapers and magazines in North America followed by England, France, Germany and Scandinavia. There were MCBFA members in thirty-four states, four provinces and six foreign countries and the Maine Coon was being mentioned in books on breeds.

In 1976 America’s native cat was at last granted championship status by the CFA (the last to hold out) and the Maine Coon could at last be shown with its peers in all cat shows. The Maine Coon was back! This was officially confirmed when, on 28th March 1985, an Act “designating the Maine Coon Cat as the State Cat” was read twice and passed to be enacted in the House of Representatives. On March 29th the Act was read twice and passed to be enacted in the Senate and was officially approved by the Governor on 10th April.

Since then the MAINE COON  has gone from strength to strength. It has become popular all over the world from Europe to Japan and from Australia and New Zealand not let it consigned to oblivion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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