. Cat World International, June 1990

In Search of a Maine Coon Cat

	 Copyright  Beth 1987



 	 The State of Maine 200 years ago
         was particularly suited for
         development of the cat now known
         as the Maine Coon Cat. In those
         colonial times, sea trade flourished
         with ships sailing to Europe and
         beyond. The return trip to England or Europe from
         Boston, Massachusetts was downwind to Maine, and
         "Downeast Maine" is an old seafaring term. When
         ships put into port for repair with Maine's magnificent
         timbers, cats jumped ship. Shipboard cats were
         common for rodent control and good luck. The strong
         sea trade in combination with family farms located near
         the small harbors created the perfect environment for
         the development of the breed. The ship cats interbred
         with the hardy harborside cats. The family farms near
         the small harbors gave a good and welcoming
         environment.
         
         Though no one can be sure of the precise origin of the
     	 Maine Coon Cat, it is likely that those cats, the early
	 gene pool of the Maine Coon Cat of today, flourished
	 and slowly developed the distinctive characteristics
         unique to the breed. Uncanny intelligence, sweet
         temperament, long, warm coats, good size and slow
         maturity contributed to survival of the Maine Coon
         Cat.
         
         Two hundred years ago, and even now the Maine
         harbor villages were isolated and the cat population
         was small. The gene pool of the early Maine Coon Cat
         was not lost by interbreeding with large numbers of
         other domestic cats. These few early cats were nurtured
         and allowed to multiply until they naturally bred true
         to type in this magical location, with the beautiful sea,
         family farms and harborside villages set in this cold
         northern climate. The breed could not have developed
         in Boston, for example, because there would have been
         too may other cats to dilute the gene pool. However,
         the Bostonian influence can be seen in the polydactyl
         Maine Coons that still naturally occur.
         
         A careful search in old-time agricultural regions of New
         England will even today turn up Maine Coon Cats,
         especially in the seacoastal regions surrounded by
         outlying farms, such as the region in the area between
         the Sheepscot River and the Kennebec River along the
         coast of Maine.
         
         The particularly sweet disposition of a true native
         Maine Coon Cat sets it distinctly apart from its
         conglomerate cousins, as proven by stories told by
         countless lucky owners. Rarely do native Maine Coon
         Cats hiss or scratch in the show ring or at home.
         
         Maine Coon Cats come in all colors except the pointed
         coloration of the Siamese, but the best loved color has
         always been brown tabby. It is possible that the cat got
         its name because a farmer's wife, watching her fluffy
         brown tabby, exclaimed, "Look at that cat. He looks
         like a big old coon!" Maine folks, long noted for their
	 sense of humor, soon began remarking to each other
         about their "coon cats". The name stuck. Exhibited in
         America's earliest cat shows as Maine Cats (but known
         only as "coon cats" back home), the breed is now
         formally called the Maine Coon Cat. Maine people
         invariably still call them "coon cats". Those from other
         states outside Maine are the only ones to call these cats
         "the Maines". In 1985, the Maine Coon Cat was
         designated the Maine State Cat by act of legislature.
         
         Maine is still a source of lovely, pure, unregistered
         Maine Coon Cats. Some of the finest are living
         unobtrusively doing porch-duty or as much-loved
         family companions. They may never see a cat show or
         registration slip, but are valued and appreciated for
         their unique quality. Pure Maine blood in a pedigreed
         Maine Coon Cat is extremely rare and hard to find
         today. Few breeders exist who now breed or have
         bred Maine-origin Maine Coon Cats exclusively. The
         breed itself is barely beyond its infancy because the
         registered genetic base is notably very small. If not for
         the few but dedicated breeders of the late 1960s, and
         the bloodlines they developed, the Maine Coon breed
         would still be doing porch-duty, perhaps shown only
         once a year at county fairs.
 
  	 The original breeders and their bloodlines include:
         Sonya Stanislaw, Tati-tan; Judith Ansell, Yankee Cats;
         Mrs. Evelyn Whittemore, Whittemore; LtC Mary
         Condit, Heidi-Ho; Liz Bicknell, Abnaki; Diane Ziessow
         Highmeadow and Kent; and Patricia Mclntire,
         Havenwood. The contributions of Mrs. Day of
         Monhegan Island, Mrs. Dorothy Moriah, and Mrs.
           
	 Marian Onat, all of Maine, cannot be discounted,
         but because they did not breed with formal cattery
         names, their efforts are extremely difficult to trace. Few
         other breeders developed bloodlines with greater impact
         on the Maine Coon Cat of today.  Notably, most of
         these early breeders provided each others' outcross; but
         some developed outcross within their own lines.
         
         The current generation of show cats is the combination
         and recombination of those same basic lines from
         which the hundreds of Maine Coon breeders today
         have all purchased cats. Now, source of outcross is
         increasingly hard to locate, and the small amount of
         Maine native blood in the breed as a whole has since
         been diluted by subsequent breedings.
         
         With a strong sense of purpose and a deep love for the
         breed, my husband, Crawford, and I went back to
         Maine for our cats. Like the, breeders who have gone to
         Turkey for their Turkish Angoras and Vans, to
         Thailand for their Korats, or to the Isle of Man for
         Manx, we went to the source of origin, home to Maine.
         Most Maine Coon breeders get started by falling in
         love with their cats. A Maine Coon Cat is special
         enough by nature, but our first cat was an extremely
         rare color for the breed, dilute calico. She and her
         mate, a super-affectionate red tabby and white, were
         registered in The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. (CFA;
         after the breed was accepted for championship in 1976
         Momma and Monhegan Mac were the foundation of
         our bloodline.
         
         As a novice breeder in the early 1970s I assumed at the
         time that all other breeders' cats were from the Maine
         area, or from the northeastern United States, as mine
         were. After contacting several breeders for an outcross.
         I soon discovered otherwise. Because Crawford and I
         were both born and raised in Maine it was only natural
         for us to want our cats to be from Maine, too. No
         breeder was found to be raising Maine-origin Maine
         Coon Cats specifically. We naively thought they would
	 be easy to find, but after searching and visiting every
	 farm in a 30-mile stretch, only ordinary shorthairs were
	 to be seen. We realized how rare natural Maine Coons
	 really are. Around our home town, relatives were asked
	 we arranged a visit. Their cat was a fine Maine Coon
	 Cat who, to this day, ranks with the largest I have seen,
	 in and out of shows. He was huge and glossy and
	 lovable--but neutered!!
         
	 As our search progressed, two breeders of fraudulent
	 Maine Coons were discovered through advertisements.
	 After observing both Balinese cross as well as Persian-
	 cross adults and kittens being touted as pure, we
	 learned to recognize false characteristics. The most
	 flagrant are very round eyes, too soft coats, very early
	 maturity, and long, wedge-shaped heads. These
	 unethical breeders who define Maine Coons as any
	 longhair cat born in the State of Maine need to
	 remember the old adage: "Just because a cat has kittens
	 in the oven, it doesn't make them biscuits"! This only
	 strengthened our resolve to find the real thing.

         The next phone call was to a Maine Guide (a
         professional licensed by the State of Maine to guide
         sportsmen), who raised Maine Coon Cats because they
         were so nice to have around, as he put it. To our
         excitement, he had kittens available. At last we had
         found kittens with the excellent conformation, type and
         color we desired. The 18-lb. male and graceful
         Tortoiseshell later produced a cornerstone of our
         breeding program, Dingo's Cameo Ginger. (see title
         photo). An unusual Red Tabby female, her lynx-tipped
         ears, luxuriant coat, and sweeping tail have all been
         passed on to her offspring. Carefully placed in loving
         breeding homes, they continue to pass on these strong
         characteristics. After a while, we contacted the Maine
         Guide again and asked if he had any Maine Coons
         unrelated to the first pair. He did, and later we bred
         our most lovable Maine Coon Cat of all! Named for
         his honorary grandpa, Ch Dingo Maine Guide Mitch is
         now a proud sire. His babies are as big and delightful 
         as he is.
         
         At my first Cat Fanciers' Federation, Inc. (CFF) show
         in April, 1987, at Guilford, Connecticut all stood
	 quietly behind the chairs as the judge lifted Ch Swift
         River Ruffian, a red and white son of Dingo Cameo
         Ginger, and test-ruffled his coat. Two Maine Coon
         breeders commented to each other, "Nice coat." The
         other, a lifetime Maine resident, replied, "Yes, he’s a
         real Maine Coon."
         
         Our search for the authentic, native Maine Coon Cat
         proved fruitful. Ensuing years have brought a real sense
         of satisfaction from our fifteen-year development of the
         Dingo bloodline based on native Maine Coon Cats.
         Perhaps the ultimate success was the Best of Breed
         ribbon won by the first offspring of the first breeding of
         a promising pair. On his eighth-month birthday, Ch
         Dingo Nipmuck Ruff defeated a Master Grand
         Champion to win our first Best of Breed award!
         
         The simple bestowing of that ribbon of recognition
         culminated many years of carefully gleaned bits of
	 knowledge. The goal of the Dingo bloodline is to
         embody the traditional hardy and strong Maine Coon
         bred to show standard. Bloodline development is never
         for the faint-hearted, because the time involved pays
         back in deep satisfaction rather than in more worldly
         wins or sales. Long-term breeding goals must be
         established. Length of pedigree is less important than
         consistency of offspring. Embodiment of the written
         standard is superbly met when the original cats are
         carefully selected, offspring observed through all stages
         of development, and with cat shows as a final test.
         
         Maine is still a source of rare Maine Coon Cats.
	 However, the opportunity to work with these cats in
         breeding programs is presently limited by the closing of
         the stud books of the registration organizations. In
         1988 again the vote was to remain closed in CFA.
         Maine Coons will be in the State of Maine long after
         breeders are gone, but finally this Maine Cat has
         regained its share of respect and prestige.
         
         
         ABOUT THE AUTHOR
         
         The author is a dyed-in-the-wool "Main-ah" who is oft
         found puddling around the salt and drifting among the
         islands of the Gulf of Maine. She is no stranger to sea
         and ships of old, has sailed some of the biggest, piloted,
         worked, and lived the seasons aboard the great working
         schooners off Maine.
         She is as much at home while mining the mountains of
         western Maine for tourmaline and their rivers for gold
         as she is camping with her husband and four children
         on their island in Maine, near where she and her
         husband were born.
         She is an artist and a pretty decent old style New
         England cook. And she knows a real Maine Coon Cat
         when she sees one.

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Dirigo Maine Coon Cats
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