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By Lisa J. Lehr
Maine coon cats are an American classic, a contribution to our history and culture that only Maine could provide. This hardy, handsome breed of domestic cat was established at least 150 years ago, and its unique characteristics developed as it adapted to Maine's own unique characteristics. And as America has become a nation of animal lovers, the Maine coon has only become more appreciated.
Maine coons are one of the oldest natural breeds in North America and are regarded as a native of Maine. "Around the origins of the Maine Coon cat swirls a fog of legend and conjecture as obscuring to reality as the fogs of its homeland," says Marilis Hornidge in That Yankee Cat--the Maine Coon . "Of the many legendary tales of the Coon cat's beginnings, the one most completely discredited is the best known, the mating of the raccoon and the domestic house cat. This is, of course, a physical impossibility."
Most Maine coon breeders believe that the breed originated from matings between pre-existing shorthaired domestic cats and longhaired types brought to America from overseas by New England seamen or by Vikings. We know from history that the old sailing ships kept cats for rodent control, and Maine was a commerce area, so it is not difficult to imagine how this could happen.
Maine coons are tall, muscular, big-boned cats, with a long, rectangular body and deep chest. Males commonly reach 13 to 18 pounds; females, normally about nine to 12; they may continue to grow until three to five years of age. They have long muzzles and long teeth. All of these traits would have given them an advantage against competitors as well as predators.
Maine coons, with their heavy coats, are well suited to the harsh New England winters. Adult Maine coons have a three-layer coat; in winter, their undercoats thicken. They have long guard hairs to keep off the snow and repel water, and a long, bushy tail to wrap around themselves for warmth. Maine coons have large, furry feet (all the better for walking on snow); furry, tufted ears that stay warm against the cold; and extremely long whiskers, which help them stay clear of brush that may entangle their long fur.
According to the Maine.gov website, "Maine coons' voices set them apart from other cats; they have a distinctive, chirping trill."
Initially appreciated for their rodent hunting skills, they were also highly admired by the families of Maine for their friendly personalities and high intelligence, and began to take on an important role as pets. As they became a more important part of New England culture, it became a popular pastime for families to admire, pamper, and brag about their cats.
In the mid-19th century, the Maine coon became a special exhibit at many county fairs in Maine, thus becoming America's very first "show cat." Maine coons come in almost all colors; although the classic brown tabby may be the first that comes to mind, they can be red tabby, silver tabby, tortoiseshell, black and white--almost anything except the Siamese pattern and a few others.
As Cat Fancy Magazine says, "Maine coons are a furry piece of American history."
Lisa J. Lehr © 2006
About The Author
Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer and Internet marketer specializing in direct response and marketing collateral. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in health, pets, and conservative issues.