Keoka Maine Coons

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What is a Maine Coon?

Many of them look as if they could take you out on a dark night, but they are a bunch of big wimps with a love of human company and an almost total dependence on us. They come from the homesteader's cats in the backwoods of Maine, the Pine Tree State, and have naturally developed to cope with the semi arctic conditions of Maine winters.

Survival characteristics start at the front end and continue to the tip of the tail. Large mouse-chewing jaws are topped with wide eyes and radar ears which are well feathered against the roar of the arctic wind. Strong legs end in large feet for soft ground and snow, with built in snowshoes to prevent it packing between the toes. The coat is warm and weatherproof, with an outer cloak which forms a thatch against the rain with the help of a little natural oil. It remains easy to self groom as a knotted coat is of no use to an arctic animal. The back legs are fitted with plus fours to keep the butt off the ice, and the tail, which is one of the most characteristic features of the Maine Coon, is long and full and wraps right around the sleeping cat, over the paws and face, keeping it cosy and filtering out the weather.

The Breed Standard preserves these features which come in handy for detecting the opening of a can at a hundred paces and homing in to its contents. The hunting instincts remain as a restless playfulness, endearing it to its human subjects, and the general good looks and tail plume gain the attention of Show Judges, helped along with a purr and a nuzzle. The wildness and timidity of their wild ancestors is fortunately long gone, but they have not completely forgotten they used to catch fish and they often love to play with water and dripping taps (faucets).

There is a lot of variation within the breed and all colours except the colourpoint are to be found. Not having been bred to a close type formula, they are a robust and hardy breed. They generally get along well with other cats and inedible animals, but birds are a continuing source of interest which is not very friendly. and one of their most endearing features is the Maine Coon 'chirrup' which often greets you on entering their room.

Maine Coons are regarded as a 'natural breed', in other words not a designer cat bred to an artificial standard, but this does not mean they have not been carefully bred. They look like Arctic Hunters, but they would not survive very long in the wild due to a major mutation - friendliness. They would become lunch to the first wolf they tried to make friends with. In the process of domestication, one of the early characteristics pet cats showed was a lack of fear of man.

A natural real hunter like Felis sylvestris, the European Wild Cat, is a viciously aggressive animal with a pathological hatred of man, and is quite untameable. It is interesting to note with Bengals, a new breed produced by crossing with wild Leopard cats, Felis bengalensis, that the emphasis is put on selecting kittens with good temperament for breeding. This was done long ago with Maine Coons, and they may look fierce and mean, but are in fact delightful loving softies.

Cats With Attitude

This is a pressure group allegedly started by one of my white Maines in a series of unpublished articles. Maines are not retiring cats quietly minding their own business, but tend to keep up a running commentary on what they are doing. They are not noisily insistent like the Siamese, but let you know what they think of the status quo, good or bad. A 'prrmp' tells you they have just jumped on a chair and another that they have just jumped down again.

Most Maines are rather too large to be regular lap cats, depending on the size of the lap of course, but need human contact and get rather lonely without it. Sometimes they will just come up for a reassuring cuddle, then trot off again, but often they will seek you out and find somewhere they can lie up close by and keep an eye on you. They are not dainty cats and they can be boisterous, often demanding affection. I usually describe them as cat lover's cats - if you like cats, Maines are all cat.

Coat Care

Maine Coons have a coat which evolved to cope with the weather of Northern America. They moult twice a year, the big one in the spring, with a noticeable difference between the summer and winter coats. Neither coat requires regular grooming, but I prefer to choose where and when it is shed by using a moulting comb during moults especially with my whites, rather than let them deposit it all on the dark green hall carpet.

If they are used to a comb as kittens, it makes any necessary combing as adults much easier. Occasionally they get a tangle or two, often round something sticky or spilt food, which can develop into a mat eventually if they can't chew it out. An occasional combing avoids this and is a nice point of contact between cat and human.

Kittens want to play with the comb, but if you wait till they are dozy, it is easier. If they wiggle or want to go, go round the neck and under the chin again, which they like. Avoid tugging by holding the comb slack in your hand so it twists away from a snag, and don't concentrate on one spot too long. Knots can be teased out in stages, pulling the hair through the comb, not the other way round. A mat sometimes forms under the back legs or armpits which can only be released with scissors. It is often not necessary to cut it completely out which can leave a gap, but if the felty bit is cut through, the cat can often chew the rest out themselves.

Maines come from Maine

The first Maine Coon I saw looked like a slightly wild looking shag pile rug with whiskers, spread across the floor of a pub making everyone step across him as they collected their beer from the bar. Typically laid back or at least laid sideways, he looked supremely self sufficient but friendly. He didn't mind being stroked yet again, but didn't react either.

Maine Coons are noted for their size, but take their time getting there, sometimes four years. They are not all huge, but are variably big. No domestic cat descended from the original African Wild Cat Felis lybica will ever grow enormous. Unlike dogs, the genes are just not present for anything larger than the biggest Maines. All you can say is that the largest cats you are likely to see could well be Maine Coons.

The story I prefer about the origin of the name goes back to Captain Coon, a man of English descent himself, but who plied his ship up and down the Eastern Seaboard of America. I can't quite bring myself to imagine a grizzled old salt with a marlinspike between his teeth cuddling long haired kittens, but I could understand the Cap'n making up some sort of excuse to explain his toleration of those pesky animals, such as a greater dislike of rats.

Living in the days before Vets lived just down the road, those pesky animals must have bred like, well, cats. The obvious way to keep down the shipboard population was to exchange them for a bottle or two or a rope of chewing baccy. He must have done well as, according to the old legends, Coon's cats were to be found all the way up to Maine.

Better documented was Captain Samuel Clough, who was a local man from Wiscasset who knew how many beans made five and could be extremely generous if money was going to come his way. He had arranged to rescue Queen Marie Antoinette from the French Revolution, but one wonders if he had inside information that she was going for the chop. He rescued her furniture and long haired cats but made a tactical retreat before getting the chop himself. To give him his due, he was said to have written to his wife asking her to prepare for a Royal houseguest.

How would he put it? "Darling Flo, will be home soon and may be bringing a queen to stay with us. Can you change the spare bed and tidy up the house a bit? She may be staying for a little time. And by the way, she's got some cats..." He must have been very sure of himself, deaf, or as I suggested, had inside information.

Marie's cats did well, multiplied and went forth, and are probably the original source of the present North American domestic cat. Some crossing may have taken place with native species as has been suggested with the European moggy, but this is impossible to prove, even in this day of advanced genetic science. What is sure is that these cats had to earn their keep in a very harsh climate, the best equipped surviving, and Darwin did the rest.

The coat developed long tough guard hairs, rather like the unrelated Norwegian Forest Cat but for the same reasons. These cling together when wet, making a soggy thatch which keeps the water off the warm underlayers. Snow in Maine comes dry and powdery, the wrong sort for British Rail but quite good for tracking on if you are equipped with snowshoes. Turn a Maine Coon upside down if not already that way up, and examine the tufts under the paw pads and the wide 'F' fitting feet.

Good listening ears with more hair than Grandpa's coming out of them which acts as built-in windshields every bit as good as those With a ruff that can shake off a driving blizzard, that all-purpose cosywrap tail and mouse chomping jaws, and you have a superbly designed winter hunter.

Then why is it spreadeagled on the carpet and about to go "purrup" and lead you to the nearest tin? Because it is a cat and knows how many beans make five.

Copyright © 1997 David Brinicombe


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Copyright © 1997 David Brinicombe

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Last updated Sept 2004