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THE rearing of coon-cats is a coming industry. Coon-cats are worth today from five dollars to one hundred dollars apiece, and the supply does not begin to meet the demand.
Exceptional specimens have been known to fetch two hundred or even three hundred dollars. At the present time [January, 1901] all of them come from Maine, simply for the reason that the breed is peculiar as yet to that State. Their popularity is such that the business of breeding them has been rapidly growing during the last few years in that part of the country, and one shipper, not very far from Bar Harbor, exported in 1899 no fewer than three thousand of the animals.
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 questlon "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". Coon-cats have been recognized as a distinct breed in Maine for so long that the memory of the oldest inhabitant runs not back to their beginning. You will find several of them in almost any village in that part of the world.
Naturalists, who are ever iconoclastic and rudely destructive of local beliefs in matters zoology, have a different explanation for the coon-cat. They say that early French settlers in the neIghborhood of Montreal and Quebec brought numerous "Angoras" with them to the American provinces and interbred them with everyday cats.
The result of this cross between the Angora and the common cat, according to the naturalists, is the coon-cat, which, as a variety, appears to have chosen Maine as its favorite home. One does not hear of it nowadays from the region of Montreal and Quebec, though perhaps there may be a few in that part of the country. It is apt to have markings similar to those of the raccoon, and it, was in this way that the theory regarding its derivation originated. At the same time it is far more beautiful than any Angora.
Though exceedingly tame and gentle, the coon-cat has a distinctly fierce look -- an aspect of ferocity that is positively funny, in view of the mildness of its temper. Its expression resembles that of a wildcat of the woods, while its eyes are of extraordinary size and always so very wide-open as to give the effect of a stare. Long eyebrows, much-developed mustaches, and elongated tufts of hair projecting from the inside of the ears might indicate an animal that was accustomed to dwell in caves, where feelers take the place of eyesight. The face is much shorter than that of a common cat, the nose being snubbed, and finally, the fur is long -- sometimes four or five inches in length.
It is actually true that strangers seeing coon-cats for the first time do not always recognize them as cats at all. The writer has seen a twenty-pound specimen sitting on an apothecary's counter in Portland, Maine. It was striped like a tiger, had long hair, was of fierce appearance, had eyebrows three inches and mustaches four inches long, stared with huge yellow eyes at nothing at all, wagged a short and bushy tail, and was the most amiable and attention-loving creature imaginable.
Such, at its best, is the coon-cat. Of late it has become known outside of New England, and a demand for it has followed. That it is something remarkable in the feline way is sufficiently evidenced by the high prices it commands. There is no reason why the market for coon-cats should depend for its supply wholly upon the State of Maine, inasmuch as they can be raised just as well farther south.
Anybody who will raise these cats in a more southern latitude will have an obvious advantage in the market so far as his own immediate neighborhood is concerned, inasmuch as the cost of expressage will be saved; and an important point to be considered is that the animals do not well stand transportation for long distances. A cat -- any kind of cat, big or little -- is a very nervous creature. It is, perhaps, the most nervous of all animals. But the coon-cat is by far the most nervous of all cats, and a specimen has been known actually to faint after being carried for an hour in a basket, so that it had to be restored with stimulants, and recovered only after it was supposed to be beyond possibility of revival.
This is why the dealers who ship coon-cats from Maine oblige the consignees to assume all responsibility for safe delivery. In many instances the animals, after a long railroad journey, arrive dead, from sheer nervous exhaustion. The people who forward them make special arrangements with the railroads for the supply of food and water to the feline passengers, and it is a part of the arrangement that each cat shall be taken out of its box or basket at each feeding-time and be comforted incidentally to the feeding.
The best possible home for coon-cats is a barn, with no buildings in its immediate neighborhood. Cats in general -- and coon-cats are no exception to the rule -- attach themselves not to persons, but to localities; they care nothing for individuals, notwithstanding illusions to the contrary cherished by their owners, but everything for the places which they have come to associate with comfort and food-supply. Hence, there is no danger that the "stock" will run away if they are cared for and fed on the premises where they are expected to remain.
Where there is not plenty of space -- as is likely to be the case in a city -- even, a fair-sized back yard will serve for rearing coon-cats on a limited scale; and, and when they sell for such large prices, even a small output numerically may he decidedly profitable. A shed, in such a situation, will provide the requisite. shelter, protection merely from weather being necessary, and all that remains to be provided is a few half-closed wooden boxes, suitable for "nests," lined with rags or hay. For nesting purposes, a coon-cat prefers a box open at one end.
Where the quarters are restricted, plenty of ashes and earth, renewed at frequent intervals, should be supplied. Male cats are most in demand and bring the highest prices.
The chief difficuity in the raising of coon-cats is the matter of temperature. They do not stand warm weather well, and in very hot spells often die.
A pair of coon-cats, or several of them, may easily be obtained direct from Maine by anybody who will take the trouble to procure the address of a dealer in that State. A readier way to get them is to buy them from a fancier, or from one of the big department stores, which may have the desired kind in its bird and cat department. Once secured, they will prove their own advertisement.
"... all of them come from Maine, simply for the reason that the breed is peculiar as yet to that State [in 1901].” ... “Coon-cats have been recognized as a distinct breed in Maine for so long that the memory of the oldest inhabitant [known in 1901] runs back to their beginning.” “You will find several of them in almost any village in that part of the world.”
The genetic base of the Maine cat was well established in Maine by the late 1700s long before there were any pedigrees, cat breeders, registries, cat clubs or even many people for that matter. This genetic base was established long before there were any roads, automobiles, or oil when people rarely traveled further than a horse could take them in a day.
The Maine cat developed naturally, out-doors, in the wild, in Maine. Maine is where it developed naturally in local isolation where its gene "pool" was free from external dilution. They developed naturally long before they appeared anywhere outside of Maine.
"... one shipper, not very far from Bar Harbor, exported in 1899 no fewer than three thousand of the (coon-cat) animals."
It is surmised that such vast exporting from Maine practically decimated Maine's coon-cat population after the article was written in 1901. That exporting together with WWI, the great depression and WWII were likely reasons Maine's coon-cats dwelled in relative obscurity during those years.