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The Maine Coon is the only truly native American cat. But its origins are lost in myth and legend, and strange stories about them abound. So where did Maine Coon cats really come from? Let us take a look at the tales surrounding their origins...
One of the best known stories about Maine Coons is that they are the result of a mating between a racoon and a domestic cat. This is, of course, genetically impossible! Thee is no way that two animals of different species could produce offspring in this way. Nevertheless, this myth still crops up from time to time in the present day.
Another common tale is that Maine Coons have been thought to be the result of a bobcat/housecat cross. This is actually a possibility. Matings between bobcats and house cats are rare, but they have been documented. The kittens of such a cross are described as sturdy, heavily-furred cats with large tufted ears and big feet. That is, they they look like Maine Coons! So...it’s not completely impossible, but this is not generally now believed.
The next legend is an extremely romantic tale, based loosely on fact. Towards the end of the French Revolution, there was a bid to save the royal cats. A sea captain named Samuel Clough was to bring Queen Marie Antoinette and her cats to the USA. She is said to have had a number of fluffy Persian or Angora cats, which mated with the resident American farm cats. Their descendents are said to be the Maine Coons. Now, this is not impossible. However, it is fairly unlikely, since Marie Antoinette was not even known to have any long-haired cats.
Next, there is the story of a Captain Coon, an English sea captain who was very fond of cats. He had a number of Persians and Angoras, and when he fraternized while ashore, so did his cats! When long-haired cat litters began appearing, they were referred to as “one of Coon’s cats”…and gradually the name stuck. Well, it could be true.
Maine Coons could be descended from the Norwegian Skogkatt, which possibly came over with the Vikings. This cat, and its Danish and Swedish counterparts, the Racekatte and the Rugkatt, have many physical traits in common with the Maine Coon. They have all eveolved in a harsh climate, and undergone periods of living wild.In recent times there have been many comments on the similarity between these breeds, so this is quite possible that the Maine Coon did descend from them. The longhaired Russian cat has similar looks, and could also have been a possible ancestor.
The true origins of the Maine Coon are most likely to be a combination of all of the above legends, shorn of the romance and some of the details. Throughout the period of American colonisation, ships came to the North-East of the USA with cargo and crews, and with them, their cats. These would have been cats of many breeds, which mated with the original domestic American cats. Man then added to the mix by selecting the traits that were found to be appealing, adding breeding programmes, and finally producing today’s Maine Coon. So the Maine Coon is a natural breed of cat, or at least the original ones were, but it has been changed over the years.
The Maine Coon has been considered as a separate breed and shown in the USA for many years. As early as the 1860s they were being shown in local agricultural shows, long before the first official cat shows were held. But there was no official standard of points, and it is unclear how exactly the cats were judged. However, the introduction of the Persian cat meant Maine Coons declined in popularity, and they disappeared from the show bench for a long time. By the 1950s the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in the USA had declared them to be extinct.
However, this was not the case. Several breeders continued developing the breed and keeping records of the kittens produced from their matings. The best known of these is a |Mrs Ethelyn Whittemore or Augusta, Maine, who had a large number of Maine Coon cats. She is probably responsible for the fact that the Maine Coon cat continued, and most present day Maine Coons are probably descended from Whittemore cats if we look far enough back.
In 1953 a Maine Coon Cat Club was formed, and in 1956 a standard of points was drawn up. The Maine Coon was officially back. Soon their popularity began to grow, and in 1976 it was finally accepted as a pedigree breed. Today it is the second most popular breed of cat in the USA, behind the Persian.
Although Maine Coons began to feature in magazines in Europe, it was not until the mid 1980s that they came to Britain. American breeders were reluctant to send them over due to British quarantine laws, fearing that the cats would be kept in unsuitable small pens. However in 1984 the first cats were imported. They consisted of five cats of varying colours, and soon more began to arrive, and breeding commenced in the UK.
In 1985 a small group of British breeders founded the Main Coon Cat Club. The popularity of these new cats continued to grow, and in 1993 they finally achieved full Championship status. Today they are the fourth most popular breed in the UK, and their popularity continues to grow.
So that is the long, involved story of the “Gentle Giant” of the feline world. But does it all really matter anyway? Do we care where the Maine Coon came from? These cats are unique, huge, extremely lovable cat, and have devoted fans the world over. And as I was told when I acquite my first one of these beautiful cats, “One Maine Coon is never enough”.
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