Celticoon Charlemagne at Sunset (Photo © Phil Hewitt)
Mystery and legends surround the true origins of the Maine Coon Cat. It is thought to have originated in Maine in the North Eastern coast of America and is considered to be one of the oldest cat breeds of North America. For many years it was believed to have been the result of a cross between a racoon and a domestic cat - hence the name. The cat's ringed tail and the dexterity of its front paws in handling food and playing with water added to the plausibility of this theory. It is now known, of course, for this to be genetically impossible. It is more likely to have been the result of mating between domestic shorthairs and the bobcat or imported overseas longhairs. One legend attributes the imports to the Vikings (8th - 11th century) and another to Marie Antoinette shipping her animals from France at the time of the French Revolution (1788 - 1795).
However the breed originated, it developed into a hardy animal popular with the farming communities who valued its rodent catching skills. Its large muscular body, long powerful legs, large tufted paws assisted by the large eyes and ears combined to provide an agility ideal for catching vermin. It's coat, long over the back, legs and ruff were ideally suited to surviving the harsh winters. The long well furnished tail added extra insulation where and when needed and is often considered to be the breed's pride and joy.
The population of Maine became very proud of their 'Coon' cats. During the 1860s, they began to be exhibited. The type remained true even though they were not judged against a written standard of points as today. By the end of the 19th century cat shows were increasing in popularity and the Coon cat continued to win major awards. However, new imported breeds such as Persians and Angoras were becoming fashionable and the popularity of the Coon cat started to enter decline as more and more were imported and shown. By the early 20th century the Coon Cat was becoming rarer and by the 1940's was in the ranks of the rare breeds. In 1953 a group of dedicated fanciers formed the first Maine Coon Cat Club in the USA and organised the first Coon-only shows. Over the next decade the breed gradually gained more admirers. A standard was drafted in 1967 and further Maine Coon associations formed. In 1976 USA Championship status was handed back to the breed with similar status being recognised in the UK in 1988. It is now the 7th most popular breed of pedigree cat in the UK.
The characteristics of the Maine Coon have been shaped by nature rather than human interference. Its sturdy, sometimes 'wild' appearance defies its gentle and faithful demeanour. The adult males average 10 - 20 lbs, sometimes more, and the females 7 - 12 lbs. They can take up to 4 years to fully grow. Although initially wary of strangers, they can be chatty with their human companions, but not noisy, often communicating with a characteristic friendly chirp peculiar to the breed. Despite their sturdy build, they are often seen to sit balanced on their haunches to improve their view of the world! They are intelligent, good company, neither demanding or aloof, and never far from your side.
True to its roots, the Maine Coon body is large, broad, muscular and well-balanced with all parts in proportion to give an overall rectangular appearance. The legs are of medium length with large, well tufted paws. It carries a smooth shaggy coat, shorter on the head and longer on the body, preferably with a ruff around the neck. Over 60 different coat colours are recognised by the GCCF.
The head is large with a squareness to the muzzle and high cheek bones. There should be a shallow concave nasal profile. The chin should be firm and, in profile, in line with the nose and upper jaw. The eyes are large with a wide and slightly oblique set. They can be green, gold or copper. In white cats they may also be blue or odd-eyed. The ears are large, wide at the base, set high and well apart, well tufted preferably with 'lynx' tips.
Finally, the tail should be as long as the body, at least reaching the shoulders, with long flowing fur, not bushy, wide at the base tapering to a point. Little wonder the Maine Coon is often referred to as 'the tail with the cat on the end'.
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