In Search of a Maine Coon Cat . Cat World International, June 1990

In Search of a Maine Coon Cat

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.


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.


Copyright Beth 1987
All rights reserved

Revised 3/24/2015

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