Maine coon cats: Maine's gift to cat lovers
Maine coon cats are an American classic, a contribution to our history and culture that only Maine could provide. This hardy, handsome breed of
domestic cat was established at least 150 years ago, and its unique characteristics developed as it adapted to Maine's own unique
characteristics. And as America has become a nation of animal lovers, the Maine coon has only become more appreciated.
Maine coons are one of the oldest natural breeds in North America and are regarded as a native of Maine. "Around the origins of the Maine Coon
cat swirls a fog of legend and conjecture as obscuring to reality as the fogs of its homeland," says Marilis Hornidge in That Yankee Cat--the
Maine Coon. "Of the many legendary tales of the Coon cat's beginnings, the one most completely discredited is the best known, the mating of the
raccoon and the domestic house cat. This is, of course, a physical impossibility."
Most Maine coon breeders believe that the breed originated from matings between pre-existing shorthaired domestic cats and longhaired types
brought to America from overseas by New England seamen or by Vikings. We know from history that the old sailing ships kept cats for rodent
control, and Maine was a commerce area, so it is not difficult to imagine how this could happen.
Maine coons are tall, muscular, big-boned cats, with a long, rectangular body and deep chest. Males commonly reach 13 to 18 pounds; females,
normally about nine to 12; they may continue to grow until three to five years of age. They have long muzzles and long teeth. All of these traits
would have given them an advantage against competitors as well as predators.
Maine coons, with their heavy coats, are well suited to the harsh New England winters. Adult Maine coons have a three-layer coat;
in winter, their undercoats thicken. They have long guard hairs to keep off the snow and repel water, and a long, bushy tail to wrap around
themselves for warmth. Maine coons have large, furry feet (all the better for walking on snow); furry, tufted ears that stay warm against the
cold; and extremely long whiskers, which help them stay clear of brush that may entangle their long
According to the Maine.gov website, "Maine coons' voices set them apart from other cats; they have a distinctive, chirping
appreciated for their rodent hunting skills, they were also highly admired by the families of Maine for their friendly personalities and high
intelligence, and began to take on an important role as pets. As they became a more important part of New England culture, it was quite a
popular pastime for families to admire, pamper, and brag about their cats.
In the mid-19th
century, the Maine coon became a special exhibit at many county fairs in Maine, thus becoming America's very first "show cat." Maine coons
come in almost all colors; although the classic brown tabby may be the first that comes to mind, they can be red tabby, silver tabby,
tortoiseshell, black and white--almost anything except the pointed (like a Siamese) pattern and a few others.
As I say in my
article about color genetics, cats are Nature’s furry artwork. Perhaps Maine coons are also a furry piece of
©Lisa J. Lehr