THE HISTORY OF THE POLYDACTYL MAINE COON CAT
The Polydactyl Maine Coon
Dirigo Polydactyl "ThumbPrince"
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The History of the Polydactyl Maine Coon
Maine Coons come from Maine and polydactyl Maine Coons most especially
show their Maine heritage visibly in their extra-wide, multi-toed paws.
Descended from cats that hardy seafaring people chose, our present-day
polydactyl Maine Coons are a direct visible genetic link to the
beautiful heritage of maritime family life. A polydactyl Maine Coon
from a Kennebec River town or village has living visible proof of its
original native Maine heritage. This heritage goes back through the
generations of kittens possibly 300 years or more, to the earliest Maine
cats, when the polydactyl gene became intertwined with and irrevocably
part of the original Maine Coon.
Purified by centuries of natural selection, polydactyl Maine Coons
embody the most distinct and visible proof possible of the long and
esteemed heritage of this native Maine Coon breed.
A polydactyl Maine coon is a Maine Coon in every characteristic and with
extra toes. This word means multi-toed, and the extra-large paws are
nick-named double-paws, because the paws are usually double-wide in
size. They can walk through snow more easily, hence another nick-name
of snowshoe cat; but most often though, they are simply called polys.
"Snowshoe" Polydactyl: Dirigo's "Dazzle"
The history of Maine's polydactyl Maine Coon tugs and whispers from the
porches of stately sea captains homes and from memories of old ships
and schooners; one wonders, how did the double-pawed cats get here?
The visible heritage embodied in a polydactyl Maine Coon stems from the
olden days of Maine, when hardy self-reliant families sailed and settled
along the shores. The distinctly unique Maine coastal environment
favored the origins of this breed. The byways, sloping shoresides, and
deeper coves were launching ways for locally built schooners and other
vessels. Salt-water farms lined the shores where we have forgotten now,
that everyday people did business by sail with canvas and masts and wind,
not trucks and gasoline. The highways of yore were the rivers and the
sea. Maine has excellent deep and navigable rivers. The Kennebec River,
for example, is famous for the number of vessels built and launched from
its shores. The talented Maine maritime families and the vastness of the
trade they dealt in are the real reason it is the Maine Coon Cat. This
breed was developed in the Maine coastal regions specifically as a result
of ship cats coming home to families who prized them for their
usefulness aboard ship as well as on the farm and around the wharves.
The years following the Revolutionary War were likely the heyday of the
Maine Cats development, as the state was known for its bustling shipyards.
Downeasters sailed with wheat world-wide, clippers sailed to China and
back, but mostly the trusty schooners carried vital local maritime
cargoes; as hundreds of various Maine-built vessels were launched every
year from riverside shipyards.
Cats were just as common at working waterfronts as dories, and are
still to be found living free at the working waterfront area of Portland
Harbor, for example. When Kennebec cargo schooners sailed to Boston and
back with lumber, bricks and supplies, cats were simply on board to
control rodents, and for pleasure. Boston Harbor has been scientifically
designated the arrival point in this country of the polydactyl cat, and
location of the first polydactyls in America. It was an easy matter for
the cute poly cats to be accepted aboard the Maine-bound vessels, for
luck as well as something new to share with family at home. The Boston
wharfside poly cats and Maine-bound schooner cats mingled as they pleased.
In this manner, the poly gene was introduced into the isolated early
Maine Coon gene pool; protected as it were, by villages united only by
sea or horse-drawn wagon. The early Maine Cats were able to breed pure
and without dilution, and the polydactyl gene became intertwined with
the other characteristics, back in the chill coastal and riverside
locations, where the pure strain of Maine Coon was developed.
Long-coated, rugged bodied Maine Coons naturally developed for survival,
as a working cat that people treasured, and their adaptation to the cold
winters and chilly ocean air resulted in eventual recognition as a
legendary distinct breed.
The poly Maine Coon is more adept, and often smarter, because of the
increased ability that the shape of their paws gives them. Their larger
paws enabled them to survive in conditions requiring them to catch their
own food. Some of them always survived and to this day the dominant
gene, polydactylism, continues to be present in a certain percentage of
native Maine Coons. Being still visible, it is likely present in the
same percentages now as in the earlier times. It can be estimated rather
accurately from genetics rules that a constant minimum of 25% of early
native Maine Coons would have been polydactyl, and perhaps more in some
isolated locations and the many coastal islands.
Thus the early Maine Cat developed into the traditional type and style
still seen in todays moderate Maine Coons. These early Maine cats were
known as 'Maine cats' or 'cooncat' in the mid-1800's (in a story by a
celebrated Maine author of that period, whose cat named "Polly", grew up
together with her.) Of course, normal-footed Maine Coon Cats developed
concurrently, often as littermates; and were the feline stars in the
first CFA Cat Shows in the USA in the early 1900s.
(See The Maine Coon Cat Authenticated by Beth
Dirigo Polydactyl Maine Coons
Dirigo's Wild Native Hooch
In 1988, the Dirigo polys began with a visit to an old Kennebec River
historical settlement, Augusta, Maine, a short few miles from our nearby
hometown. A polydactyl mother cat and her male kitten, a kitten with
four huge paws and nice brown mackerel coloring, were acquired there.
The mother cat, Tuffy of Dirigo, was so named for biting the policeman
who rescued her from under a riverside building.
The kitten was named Dirigo's Wild Native Hooch and came back to Dirigo
to join the breeding group of Maine Coons. Registered in CFF, the male
joined in smoothly and every kitten from him was as healthy as could be.
Those that inherited his huge feet, typically 25%, were treasured also
for their intelligence, disposition, and fine markings.
A notable female daughter born 3 years later in 1991, was Dirigo's
"Hooch P. Honey", a four-footed poly of lovely large feet inherited from
her father, and disposition and intelligence unmatched. Later she bred
with the well-known key Dirigo male, TICA and CFF CH Dirigo Swift River
Ruffian, and her son, Dirigo Amos P. was born in fall of 1995. Amos
as he is called, still is a huge purr machine and incorporates the
finest qualities of all Maine Coons over the centuries.
In having a poly Maine Coon from the shores of the Kennebec River, one
has a true and visible genetic tracer straight back through hundreds of
years, to the original strong and hardy polydactyl Maine Coons.
Undiluted, purified by centuries of natural selection, the proof is
there visibly, of the true and long heritage of the native, original,
Maine Coon Cat.
Tuffy and her son were Dirigo's first source of poly Maine Coons. Several
years later, a second source of registered Dirigo polydactyl Maine Coon
Cats began with Dirigo Phoebe. Dirigo Phoebe was an incredibly loving
blue poly female. The daughter of Phoebe, Dirigo Mitsigirl P, born in
1996, became possibly the finest mother Dirigo ever had. Four poly feet,
sweet nature, lovely coat, make her all the more endearing, but strong
and healthy kittens are her forte.
Poly Maine Coons were always present in the registered breed as
exemplified by Whittemore Ginger, believed to be the first polydactyl
Maine Coon registered (from Augusta, Maine area) and another early poly
foundation-source cat, Gray Luv Perry, originated from outside of Maine.
The earlier-registered poly kittens became rare because they could not
be shown. Betty Ljostadt was well known for her staunch support and
affection for the poly Maine Coon, but the polydactyl characteristic was
not included in the first breed standard she helped develop for show
acceptance, due to cat politics. Because of this omittance,
registered polydactyl Maine Coons nearly became bred out. After
acceptance of the Maine Coon breed by CFA, CFF, ACA and CCA, cat club
politics kept many discussions and breedings of poly kittens very
quiet. Pursuit of grand championships became more important to some
early breeders than the preservation of the original Maine Coon as it
had always been. Dirigo was an exception, keeping the lineage of polys
Eventually staunch breeders loved the poly Maine Coon, followed their
hearts, and got them going again, and kept them going. Now the poly
Maine Coon is in a fine resurgence. Dirigo has to date introduced two
separate sources of poly Maine Coons into the registered pedigreed breed.
After learning of Dirigo's Wild Native Hooch and being impressed with his
strong kittens, a very brave lady, Karen Jacobus, (Soho Mews,) showed a
poly Maine Coon as HHP, at a Maine Coon Cat Club breed show in
Connecticut. This broke the ice publically in the Eastern Region forever.
This particular cat was obtained in the Augusta, Maine region and sent to
Karen by the late Marty Foss, (Kriscaj). It was eventually registered by
Karen, but not bred, as HHP adult entries are required to be altered.
There are now some other newer breeders working with their personal
interest in the Maine origin polydactyl Maine Coon, but at that time,
nearly 20 years ago, the only polys from Maine sources (except those
descended from Whittemore Ginger) included Karen's cat, rare Lynart or
Choate cats, and Dirigo cats. These breeders have retired and only the
Dirigo Maine-origin polys continue on uninterrupted from the original
Dirigo poly Maine Coons have been shown many times. Two achievements
bear note: Dirigo Dazzle won 13 rosettes as best HHP kitten in her first
show at TICA, in Portland, Maine in 2000, and in 2005 Dirigo Glory P. won
TICA 20th best HHP kitten in just one show. Now, TICA allows poly Maine
Coons to be shown in the New Traits class. Dirigo Brown Polly has earned
over a dozen Best rosettes to date.
Living visible proof of the long and esteemed heritage of authentic
Maine Coon Cats is embodied in a polydactyl Maine Coon. Always part of
the true breed, these big-foot cats bring joy and satisfaction to all
who have one -- a little bit of Maine in a cat-fur coat!
About the Author
A native Mainer, notable Maine author and artist did her undergraduate
studies in fine art and literature at Syracuse University.
She has written many articles on this unique breed of cat. Her articles
are internationally published and have been translated into other
languages since 1990. Beth has written many of the most authoritative
articles about the unique Maine Coon breed.
Beth is internationally recognized as a foremost authority on the Maine
Coon breed. She is dedicated to preserving native Maine Coon cats.
She contributes substantially to the history and evolution of the Maine Coon
Cat breed, genetic topics, and breeding articles about Maine Coon Cats.
Request pictures of polydactyl kittens
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