Teaching an old dog new tricks
The “Old Dog” I refer to is ME! Being the loving companion of an almost fourteen-year-old Maine Coon, I consider myself to be somewhat practiced in the ways of this particularly quirky breed of cat. However, over the last week, I had the opportunity to discuss cat breeds with a California friend who is considering adopting a purebred rescue Maine Coon. Knowing that Rocky and I have lived in relative peace and harmony for some time now, she thought I might have ideas about what she might expect from this cat known as the Great Dane, or Gentle Giant of the cat world. Having only anecdotal evidence to support my opinions, I went to my favorite critter website, UCDveterinarysciences.edu. There I learned some useful and fanciful information about these spectacular cats.
--They are considered a “Massive” Breed. There is a reason why some people have mistaken pet Maine Coons for bobcats—Maine Coons tip the scales at anywhere from 9 to 16 pounds (female) and 13-18 pounds (Male). That makes my Rocky a rather petite little guy at a modest 14-½ pounds! Outweighed only by Norwegian Forest Cats and Ragdolls (which can weigh in at a whopping 20 pounds), their long fur and bulky body mass makes them look particularly formidable.
--They have colorful origin stories. As their name suggests, Maine Coon cats are native to the Pine Tree State. Thanks to their (often) brown coats and bushy tails, one popular (but scientifically unsound) explanation for the breed’s origin is that it resulted from semi-wild domesticated cats mating with raccoons. Another theory is that Maine Coons are descendants of six pet cats that Queen Marie Antoinette shipped to Wiscasset, Maine, as she was planning her escape from France during the French Revolution. A less intriguing—but more plausible—story is that the furry kitties originated from shorthaired domestic cats breeding with longhaired cats, which may have been brought to America by the Vikings or European sailors who docked in New England during the 1700s. Since genetic testing indicates that Maine Coons are actually a descendent of both the Norwegian Forest Cat and a mysterious extinct domestic breed, the Vikings are thought likely responsible for their initial introduction into the Americas.
--They’re “dressed” for winter. Maine Coons evolved to survive harsh winters by developing characteristics like large, tufted paws that serve as built-in snowshoes and a thick bushy tail they can wrap around their body to insulate it from the cold. Their crowning feature is a leonine, dense, water-repellant coat that’s longer on the stomach, ruff, and flanks. These shaggy sections keep a Maine Coon’s lower body warm when it sits on or walks across ice or snow. The fur grows shorter on the shoulders, allowing the kitties to romp through the woods without getting snared by tree branches or bushes.
--Not all Maine Coon cats are brown. Maine Coons are often thought to be synonymous with their brown, raccoon-like coats. They actually come in all kind of colors and patterns, including smoke, cream, cameo, mackerel, and tortoiseshell. But Maine Coon owners don’t breed cats with lilac, chocolate, or Seal Point Siamese coloring—the Cat Fanciers’ Association disqualifies against these colors, since they indicate hybridization. (Rocky is relieved to know that as a proud Grey Tabby Maine Coon, he is in no danger of being used as a “show cat”. Probably the fact that he bites would also disqualify him, also)
--They won America’s first popular juried cat exhibit. One of America’s first well-known cat shows was held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1896. There, a brown tabby Maine Coon named Cosie won the event’s “Best Cat” award. For a long time after, Maine Coons were the country’s most coveted breed until Persian cats came into vogue. After that, cat fanciers stopped breeding the prize-winning Maine Coon. The cat became so scarce that some sources say it was thought to be extinct in the 1950’s Aficionados joined forces to rescue the fluffy feline from obscurity, forming the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association in 1968. In 1976, Maine Coons were accepted for championship status by the CFA.
--They’re popular in Maine—and everywhere else. The Maine Coon was made the official state cat of Maine in 1985—but they are beloved by cat lovers across America. In 2015, Maine Coons were the third most popular breed in the U.S., according to CFA registration statistics. They are also highly prized in Japan and Europe.
--A Maine Coon starred in the Harry Potter movies. A Maine Coon named Pebbles was one of three kitties to play Argus Filch’s pet feline, Mrs. Norris, in the Harry Potter films. Pebbles was a neutered mama cat that animal trainers “discovered” in a cattery in southwest England. She reportedly wasn’t as responsive to complex training as the film’s other cat actors, but she was great at walking across the set and stopping on command. Remember those shots of Mrs. Norris pacing the halls of Hogwarts? That’s Pebbles. Rocky just confided that he would consider signing with an agent as long as I don’t expect to share in his movie contract paychecks!!
--A Maine Coon was cloned commercially. In 2004, a Maine Coon named Little Nicky became the first pet animal to be cloned commercially. After Little Nicky died at age 17, his Dallas-area owner, Julie ___, saved his tissue in a gene bank. She paid $50,000 to have the California based Genetic Savings and Clone, Inc. (?!?) transplant his DNA into an egg cell. A surrogate mother cat carried the embryo, and gave birth to a kitten that was similar in appearance and temperament to Julie’s prized kitty. Sheesh! We have great kitties up at the Center who don’t cost a fraction of that amount! In fact, they are FEE-FREE! Such a deal!
--A Maine Coon was the world’s LONGEST cat! Stewie, an 8-year-old Maine Coon, held the Guinness World Record for world’s longest domestic cat before his death from cancer in 2013. When fully stretched out, Stewie measured 48.5 inches from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail bone. Pardon me while I measure Rocky!
--…And the world’s oldest cat. Technically, Corduroy—the world’s record holder in the Guinness World Records is only half Maine Coon. Corduroy’s 26-year lifespan puts his purebred counterparts to shame.
--They love water. Maybe it’s due to their dense, moisture-repellant coats, but for some reason, Maine Coons love water. While other cats will steer clear of a full bathtub, a Maine Coon will likely jump into it. My experience with Rocky bears this out. His water dish is in my shower and he likes to sit just on the edge and drink, getting ever so wet in the process. Shower over, we both get toweled off!
--Some Maine Coons have six toes. Move over, Hemingway’s cats—Maine Coons, even when not interbred, often have six toes. Early in the breed’s development, Maine Coons were often polydactyls, meaning they were born with extra appendages on their paws. Some experts estimate that as many as 40 percent of early Maine Coons had this characteristic. It stemmed from a genetic mutation, which some people say helped the cats use their paws as natural snowshoes during snowy Maine winters.
Well---this old dog learned a thing or two about my own Maine Coon! Hope you did too! Next Up….teaching Old Dogs new READING tricks. See you at the Center!