"The Maine Coon is a natural breed of amiable character that traces its origins to the working cats found on the farms of Northeast America."
Why this sentence stands above the standard of FIFe, one of the major associations in worldwide catbreeding is clear: it tries to establish the relationship between the Maine Coon breed "created" by breeders and the adopted ancestors, the long-haired Maine Cats which lie at the base of the recognized breed. However - to take a botanical example: the wild flower tulip is about as far away from the garden plant tulip as the recognized Maine Coon, which has been bred since the 60's and 70's of the 20th century, from the "archetype" Maine Cat of the 19th century. But both are based on an origin, which at least in the Maine Coon is seen by many breeders, exhibitors, judges and keepers as the "real", the "original" and therefore is seamlessly transferred to the thoroughly bred breed.
This is of course not so easy to implement, because this ideal of a purebred cat can not be fulfilled by any not thoroughly bred living being. The "ideal" is rather an image, a standard created by humans - something which describes the required "image" and which should be the goal of successful breeding efforts. The "founding animals" of the "breed", which should look as close as possible to this idea of a Maine Coon, came from all possible areas of the US-American East Coast, not only from Maine.
The Maine Coon is therefore claimed to be the "original", i.e. "autochthonous" cat breed of the northeastern states of the USA, especially the state of Maine, after which it is named and which appointed it "Official State Cat" in 1985 at the instigation of a group of breeders around Carol Pedley (Le Beau Minu). Older names or better forerunners of the breed are "Maine Cat", "Shag Cat" or "Maine Shag". Because of its nature and its size it is often called "Gentle Giant". It is one of the so-called "northern" or "forest cat breeds", together with the Norwegian Forest Cats and the Siberian Cats. A half-long, stable "all-weather"- fur is what they all have in common. Genetically, the Maine Coon is closely related to the domestic cats of the New York region. This was found out by researchers who tried to find genetic similarities between pedigreed cats and regional domestic cat populations. (Lipinski 2008). According to this study, the Maine Coon is only quite remotely related to the Norwegian Forest Cats and Siberian Cats, which are closely related to each other and to the domestic cats of Europe. This could actually be the indication that the breed and its predecessors, the Maine Cat, have been in North America for quite some time and that they, i.e. the "predecessors" as well as the breed based on them, are indeed true Americans.
1. The founding myths
So let's look at what we know - or believe we know - about the history of this breed. How Maine Coons developed into the big furry animals we know today is not known. But there are several theories about it, because different stories and myths entwine around the origin of the Maine Coon. The four most important of them are these here:
The technically most impossible of these theories is the one which says that a cat from Maine had mated with a raccoon. The appearance of the early Maine cats, the tabby and especially the bushy, curled tail, reminded the inhabitants of the New England states strongly of a raccoon. Thus the myth arose that the Maine Coon is said to have originated from the mating of cat and raccoon - which is biologically impossible.
Another variant of the Maine Coon's genesis is based on the assumption that the Maine Coon cats are descendants of Norwegian Forest Cats - or more precisely of their ancestors - who arrived in New England around the year 1000 A.D. with the Viking Leif Eriksson as ship cats and reproduced there. All three Forest Cat breeds, Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest Cats and Siberian Cats are in fact relatively similar in appearance. It should be noted, however, that obviously - before the early English settlers who arrived in America with the Mayflower and other ships after the "discovery" of the continent in 1495 - in contrast to the dogs, there were no animals of the genus "catus felix", i.e. domestic cats, among the indigenous population in North America. Also no wildcats like in Europe. The only cats who could be found in America before being colonized by Europeans are apparently puma and lynx, which are obviously not suitable for pets. And even if the Northmen around Leif Erikson had cats on their longships during their landings - and their only short-lived settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland - they were probably too few to build up a stable population without native mating partners. (We now embezzle the fact that these "Vikings" came from the settlements on Greenland and not from Norway.)
A third theory of origin is that they originated from the crossing of long-haired cats of the French queen Marie Antoinette (of whom it is known that she loved long-haired and fluffy animals and from whom in fact many private things like furniture and allegedly also six Angora cats came in a ship with which the queen wanted to flee France, to America - more precisely to Wiscasset in Maine) with native cats and the offspring became long-haired and big from it. Although this theory is very beautiful - and quite romantic - and in Maine the queen's furniture is still passed on full of pride as "family heirlooms", these six Angora cats - as in the case of the alleged cats of the Vikings - are not likely to have had any real influence on the cat population of the American east coast in the 100 years from 1793 onwards even as a start impetus.
And finally there is the story of a Captain Coon, who travelled the New England states as a trade captain. When the captain disembarked, his long-haired ship cats followed him, and while he was trading, his cats mated with the local harbour cats. And when, after nine weeks, another long-haired cat was lying somewhere in a litter, the comment was: "Another coon cat!
If we see the good captain as a symbol for the many New England captains who certainly brought longhaired cats as a luxury gift for their families from their commercial voyages (not all of them were whalers like Captain Ahab), we might find the true core of the breed here. Such a longer lasting, constant influence might well have created a certain basis for the Maine cat and its descendant, the Maine Coon as we know them. By the way, many sources claim that sailors often preferred polydactile cats because they believed they brought a ship good luck, could climb better and are therefore superior mousers. Since it is estimated that polydactile cats represented between 25 and 40% of the Maine-Cat population depending on the various areas of Maine and where these ships sailed, we might also be able to see from it where the origins of the breed lie.
Above i say "a basis", because the most probable possibility, analogous to the Norwegian Forest Cats and Siberian Cats mentioned above, which developed from similar climatic conditions on a bit more northern latitude, is that the Maine Cats have evolved through natural selection into the large, imposing and furry animals we know now: bigger and more furry means that it is easier to keep the body warm as there is less body surface in relation to the mass, the long dense coat has a warming effect and the cat is more able to survive in rough climates like the very cold, harsh winter in New England. However, we are not talking about polar regions here: Maine still lies in the so-called cool temperate zone, with a landlocked country in which the so-called continental climate, with comparatively warm summers, but also very harsh winters, prevails and a coastal area about 30 km into the country in which the temperatures are more moderate than in the land due to the proximity of the sea. Hurricanes are the exception in Maine, but there are often the "coastal storms", which bring strong rain and wind, and also snow in winter. On the other hand, Maine is about the same latitude as Lake Como and Jesolo in Italy. This is often forgotten because the continental and coastal climate of the American continent is different from that of the "peninsula" of Europe. Be that as it may, only the strongest, largest and best adapted cats could and can survive and reproduce here. All these cats were however also, even if they probably spent most of the time "outside", closely associated with the people in their environment and no "wild cats".
2. Before 1900 - first bloom
These ancestors of the Maine Coon were first mentioned regionally in the 1850s, known and very popular under the name Maine-Cat. At agricultural fairs like the "Skowhegan Fair" the most beautiful Maine cat was chosen, which was then allowed to carry the title "Maine State Champion Cat". Mrs. E.R. Pierce, who was the co-owner of a black and white Maine cat named "Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines", documented this early history of the domestic cat in the States and thus also of the Maine Coon. According to her chronicle the Maine Cats, as they were still called there, appeared already around 1870 on shows far in the west of her homeland as for example the areas around Chicago.
On a flyer of the "Eastern Maine State Fair" which took place in the Concert Hall in Bangor in August 1884, special reference is made to Maine cats: "To the attractions of the "Eastern Maine State Fair" belong a cat show where there are many prizes to be won. There are five prizes each for Angora or Coon cats, tier cats, Maltese cats, white cats, tortoiseshell cats, best trained cats, biggest cats, Persian cats and black cats as well as three prizes for the most beautiful kittens. “
The first real description of the breed - and thus also many of the legends that entwine around its origin - can be found in a book from 1892, Harrison Weir's "Our Cats" - in the foreword to the second edition of his work:
”Among the numerous letters I have received from America is one from Mrs. Mary A. C. Livermore, of Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A., who writes: "I have just come possessed of a black long-haired Cat from Maine. It is neither Persian, Angora, nor Indian. They are called here 'Coon' Cats, and it is vulgarly supposed to be a cross between a common Cat and a 'Coon.' Mine is a rusty bear-brown colour, but his relatives have been black and white, blue and white, and fawn and white, the latter the gentlest, prettiest Cat I know. His tail is very bushy and a fine ruff adorns his neck. A friend of mine has a pair of these Cats, all black, and the female consorts with no one but her mate. Yet often she has in her litter a common short-haired kitten."
Since the above reached me, I have received from another correspondent in the United States a very beautiful photograph of what is termed a "Coon" Cat. It certainly differs much from the ordinary long-haired Cat in appearance; but as to its being a cross with the Racoon, such a supposition is totally out of the question, and the idea cannot be entertained. The photographs sent to me show that the ears are unusually large, the head long, the length being in excess from the eyes to the tip of the nose, the legs and feet are large and evenly covered with long, somewhat coarse hair, the latter being devoid of tufts between and at the extremity of the toes; there are no long hairs of any consequence either within the ears or at their apex. The frill or mane is considerable, as is the length of the hair covering the body; the tail is rather short and somewhat thick, well covered with hair of equal length, and in shape like a fox's brush. The eyes are large, round, and full, with a wild staring expression. Certainly, the breed, however it may be obtained, is most interesting to the Cat naturalist, and the colour, as before stated, being peculiar, must of course attract his attention independently of its general appear-ance. Since the above was written, I have received the following from Mr. Henry Brooker, The Elms, West Midford, Massachusetts, United States of America. After asking for information respecting Cats of certain breeds, he says:
"I have had for a number of years a peculiar strain of long-haired Cats; they come from the islands off the coast of Maine, and are known in this country as 'Coon' Cats. The belief is that they have been crossed with the 'Coon.' This, of course, is untrue. The inhabitants of these islands are seafaring people, and many years ago some one on his vessel had a pair of long-haired Cats from which the strain has sprung. There are few short-haired cats on the island as there is no communication with the mainland except by boat. I want to improve my strain and get finer hair than the Cats now have. Yellow Cats are the most popular kind here, and I have succeeded in producing Cats of a rich mahogany colour with brushes like a fox. They hunt in the fields with me, and my Scotch terriers and they are on the most friendly terms." This, as a corroboration of the foregoing letters and the photographs, is, I take it, eminently satisfactory. (note: both "fawn-colored" and short-haired descendants are mentioned here: anathema in "our" Maine Coon.)
Harrison Weir was, by the way, the organizer of the first cat show held in England in 1871. He was also the first to create standards for different breeds - but in our case not specifically for the Maine Cat, which was judged to the same standard as all other long-haired cats. (A later descendant of this method is the usual CFA and TICA separation of shorthair and longhair cats whilst FIFe and WCF divide into four classes).
In this system the early Maine Cats were judged: together with imported long-haired cats and regardless of their origin - all were judged together. Since the "all together" was not only handled so when exhibiting, but also in the context of the - not yet too purposeful - breeding, the Maine Cat seemingly disappeared as an independent breed, slowly displaced by imported breeds after 1900 from the annals of the shows and the emerging American cat clubs. "They disappeared" is not really true because many of the old Maine cats are still to be found far back in the background of the modern Persians -, but they were just mated with the other long-haired animals to finally form the breed that we today call Persians and very rarely exhibited as Maine Cat. As we can see below and as we know, the Maine Cat however was not extinct as an independent breed.
Weirs longhair standard - here for white cats - 1889 by which also the Maine Cat was judged, reads as follows:
WHITE. LONG-HAIRED CAT.
QUALITY OF FUR 10 points Fine, silky, and very soft in the Persian, with a slightly woolly texture in the Angora, and still more so in the Russian.
TAIL 10 points In the Persian the hair long and silky throughout, but somewhat longer at the base. Angora more like the brush of a fox, but much longer in the hair. Russian equally long in hair, but full tail, shorter and more blunt, like a tassel.
This picture, by the way, shows "Cosey", logically a Maine Cat, the winner of the Madison Square Garden Show 1895. You can see a bit of resemblance to our standard-conforming, harmonious contemporary animals, can't you? But this highly decorated winning animal has nothing to do with the extreme cats, which are just so modern. But: to be clear - this is the origin, so to speak. You should always bear this in mind when considering breeding this breed: how far do I want to stray away from these origins with my animals?
3. 1900 to 1950 - The Years of Decline
Around 1900 at the latest, after the great success of the shows in England, the great cat fancy fever finally began in America as well as in Europe. For the Maine Cat we are only interested in North America. Everywhere in the United States breeding clubs and cat shows were organized. In 1901 a newspaper presented the breed in an article about cat breeding and sales and wrote the following: "Coon Cats have existed as an independent breed in Maine for so long that even in the memories of the oldest inhabitants they were always there. You can find several of them in almost every village in this part of the world."
And in 1906 cat lovers founded the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), which is now represented worldwide. In the first CFA stud book 28 Maine-cats were registered, e.g. number 5, Molly Bond. But you have to remember again that cats were not registered explicitly according to breed, but according to longhair and shorthair. Molly Bond, a "tortoiseshell" from Maine, was registered as longhair. The breeder attached a written declaration that this cat is "longhaired" and that both parents are also longhaired. This led to the fact that also the Persian breeders claim Molly Bond as the first "Parti-Color Persian" for themselves in the stud book of CFA . As I already mentioned above - some early Maine Cats were included in the gene pool of the Persians - and the boundaries were apparently still fluid at that time.
Relatively fast then however, I have already mentioned it, the Maine Cat went "out of fashion", as the long-haired cats of other breeds already known at that time - like for example the aforementioned Persians - became more and more popular. The Maine Cat began to disappear faster and faster from the cat shows and from the consciousness of the public. The last show win for a long time that was registered for a Maine Cat was the day a "long-haired blue cat from Maine" became the best cat of the show: 1911 on the west coast of the USA in Portland, Oregon. Afterwards the Maine Cat disappeared in the background and was only occasionally exhibited as a domestic cat.
In this context I also found an interesting short article in an English cat journal from the late 1920s: "The American newspapers make constant references to the "Coon Cats" from Maine, which many authors claim that they come from a cross with the raccoon. This animal is so different from the cats that such a cross is impossible, and even if it were to happen, the resulting offspring would be true hybrids and sterile. However, we can imagine that it is possible that there may be a very pronounced local breed that differs from ordinary cats, such as Abyssinians and British cats.
We have therefore consulted our colleague, Mrs Taylor, from "The Cat Courier", who kindly replies: "About the Coon Cat: We do not believe in such an animal. Some people mistakenly call our long-haired cats in Maine "Coon Cats", but in reality they are nothing more than free-range Persian cats and bad mongrels in brown tabby and all kinds of colours". This is what we expected. It is strange that some people, as soon as they get to see something a little unusual, immediately try to explain it with a hint of a strange and wonderful cross: Many years ago Manx kittens were seriously exhibited for the first time and described in the press as hybrids between cat and rabbit! "
"And yet it exists," one might say. But ultimately the "Maine Cat" only much later became "official" as a catbreed, than as the Maine Coon.
4. 1950 to 1980 - The formative years
In the early 1950s it got so quiet around the breed that it was claimed to be extinct. In 1959 the Maine Cat was mentioned and noted in the CFA Yearbook in an article entitled "Cats of Yesteryear": “The popularity of the Maine Cats began to wane shortly after the turn of the century and few were seen in shows subsequent to 1904. Cats, preferably imports, with lengthy ancestral backgrounds, were fashionable. The fact that the Maine Cat failed to thrive in warmer climates also contributed to its extinction as a breed.”
In order to show that this was not the case and so that the Maine Coon could be recognized as a purebred cat again, lovers and breeders began at this time with so-called "show-in's", i.e. Maine Cats were shown at every cat show, because although the Maine cats had disappeared from the exhibition halls, the people loved their Maine cats and had "preserved" them, so to speak - although not necessarily also bred according to a plan.
In the early 1950s, two ladies (whom I can't imagine anything other than gray-haired and curly, even though they probably weren't both) named Alta Smith and Ruby Dyer founded the "Central Maine Coon Cat Club". This club organized its first show on June 21, 1953 in Skowhegan, Maine where 40 cats were shown. The fact that more than 200 visitors came also shows how popular the cats still were apart from the big breeding associations. Since at this time practically no "breeding cats" of the breed were available, so called "foundation"-animals - cats fetched from the natural population with the breed-typically desired characteristics - were used as basis for the "reconstruction". The breeders then did not have anything else, because the cats had not - with very few exceptions - been bred according to plan for many years.
Three years later, in 1956, Dr. Rachel Salisbury created the first known standard for the evaluation of Maine-Cats, which was used in the same year at a cat show. Nothing similar to Dr. Salisbury's scoring will ever be reflected in future Maine-Coon standards - and even the perfectly normal polydactile animals will - after the MCBFA has decided to postpone the recognition of this variant to "later" - no longer appear in the "official" standards of the studbook keeping clubs. Interesting is, that she also sees a short-haired variant of the breed - and if you look today how short-haired some animals are compared to the "fur monsters" of my early days in 1989, this is almost prophetic. And that she notes "bobbed tails" is no longer correct today either. By the way, all this she describes there can be found in the relatively new breed PixieBob.
Unfortunately, the CMCCC did not have the effect the founders had hoped for, it dissolved in 1963 and was forgotten. Only some of the breeders, for example Ethelyn Whittemore, who had joined forces here, went on without organisation for the time being..
The first - still today known - "real" breeders then established their kennel names, building on the work of their 50s predecessors, in the late 1960s to early 1970s. In order to document their work and establish the breed in the breeding associations, they tried to reorganize themselves, but this work only began to pay off with the foundation of the "Maine Coon Breeders And Fanciers Association" (MCBFA) in 1968. The MCBFA was created for the purpose of recognition as a "purebred cat" by the breeders' associations in America with the declared aim of "protecting and promoting the breed". By the way, I think it is important to remember that this was and is still about preserving the breed and not turning it into something else.
Summer of 69" - no, we're not going on a trip into musical realms or even politics here. But 1969 is the year in which for the breed decisive things happen: Ethelyn Whittemore (Whittemores) finally officially registers her cats, whose lines she has been breeding for a long time. Sonya Stanislow (Tati Tan) creates a first Maine Coon Standard for her own club, which will then become one of three pillars in the so-called "Unified Standard", the first generally binding one. Conny Condit (Heidi Ho) finds a pregnant cat, keeps a long-haired kitten from this litter and calls him "Andy Katt". And her friend Bonnie Rich (Richelieu), who also lives in Maryland, brings a long-haired tortoise female back with her from a vacation in Florida and gives her to her friend. They call this female "Bridget Katt". Do these two cat names seem familiar to you? Every classically bred Maine Coon has them in her pedigree - at the very beginning, you only have to go back far enough to the first foundation of the registered breed. In the course of time these two, together with three animals from Sonja and Ethelyn, will become the so-called TOP5 cats of the Maine Coon. And Ethelyn, Sonya and Conny will thus become the first holy triad of the Maine Coon history.
Until 2017, the MCBFA was probably the most important international Maine-Coon-specific association. The standard that was developed here - first including the Polys - is the basis of all today's common standards. However, since the purpose of the association was fulfilled - and overfulfilled - in the years after 2000, it has since dissolved. In one of the first "Scratch Sheets", the MCBFA member newspaper of January 1969, there is already a list of smaller associations that had already recognized the Maine Coon for Championship status in the time before: CCA (Canadian Cat Association), ACA (American Cat Association) and ACFA (American Cat Fancier's Association). In the late 1960s, however, the championship status in the CFA was the most important, and the CFA still hesitated to accept the Maine Coon. However, the constant actions of MCBFA members, who showed their Maine Coon Cats at every available cat show, resulted in more and more of the smaller associations accepting the breed. And so it was finally in May 1976 that the CFA - ironically the first association to exhibit the breed - was the last and largest of the American associations to officially recognise the Maine Coon as a fully-fledged pedigree cat. The 1979 founded TICA (The International Cat Association), the other big American association accepted it from its foundation. The recognition in the Fédération Internationale Féline d'Europe (FIFé), on the other hand, was only possible with great effort. It was not until 1983, thanks to the efforts of Gido & Erika Gautschi from Switzerland and the Simon family from Germany, that the Maine Coon was also included in the FIFé list of purebred cats. The WCF, the World Cat Federation, which separated from the FIFé more than 30 years ago and is now also represented worldwide, accepted the Maine Coon as a breed from the beginning without any problems as "worthy of a title".
From these laborious, partly narrow beginnings of breeding the breed as we know and breed developed - also thanks to the many meanwhile half-forgotten "small lines", which partaked beside the "big names". Many breeders who are now half or even completely forgotten have paved the way for the Maine Coon as we know it today with their breeding work. Many kennel names of this early time have long been forgotten, except by pedigree researchers. Others, on the other hand, are still familiar to every Maine Coon breeder in the world today.
At the very beginning of three of the best-known foundation-lines of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the animals which are now called "Top 5" and which are not missing in any pedigree of a "classic" Maine Coon are standing like a cornerstone. We have already met two of them above and now you will also get to know the other three. It is estimated that these TOP5 are represented in the pedigree of a classical Maine Coon bred without New Foundation Lines as follows::
These Top 5-animals are:
Unfortunately i was never able to find a picture of Smokey Joe, but here are the other four:
As you can see from the areas of origin, our much-named "TOP 5" Maine Coon animals not only originated from Maine. This is one of the few verifiable facts of this early period. Because only Smokie Joe of Whittemore was an "original" Main cat: the rest, a proud 80%, came from New York, Maryland and Florida. In this respect the Maine Coon is really an "All American Cat". Tatiana and Dauphin were mother and son and their breeder, Sonya Stanislov (Tati-Tan), was instrumental and in a central position involved in the Maine Coon being recognized. Smokey Joe, who as far as I know was the only one whose origin and pedigree was known more about because his breeder - unusual for her time - documented her entire breeding work, was registered in 1969 by his breeder, Ethelyn Whittemore, at the insistence of Eugene Emhinizer, the first official president of the newly founded MCBFA from 1970 on. Although Ms. Whittemore had been breeding Maine Coons for over 20 years, it was not until the breed was recognised in the first associations that she registered her animals - and so her black stud entered the TOP5. But even that we know that in the years before the recognition by the various associations phenotypically correct animals were collected rather laboriously - and not only in Maine, but on the whole east coast - it still is a coincidence that these five animals of all of them played such prominent roles in our breed.
The offspring of the 1978 born "Heidi Ho Sonkey Bill" (left) - who as a multiple offspring of Andy and Bridget had an inbreeding coefficient of 37% - with "Tanstaafl Polly Adeline" (right) are called "Clones" because they obviously looked extremely similar: in April 1982 many of the early Maine Coon breeders convened together at a show in New York. During a small celebration, Conny Condit was telephoned to tell her about the performance of the animals she bred, when someone in between shouted: "Tell Connie we know she is just cloning these cats and painting them different colors!" - Due to the excellent show quality of these cats, they were also used in breeding again and again and contributed considerably to the gene pool of the modern Maine Coon. On the whole the clones are 35 % represented in the pedigree of a Maine Coon bred without "New Foundations". These are the cats called the "Clones":
Here in the annexes to the names we find almost all important Maine Coon catteries of the beginning: Heidi Ho, Tanstaafl and Calicoon, Charmalot, Meunerie, OldeFarm, Tycoon and Mt.Kittery - all the names you will find in practically every Maine Coons pedigree if you go back far enough. From "Heidi Ho Canth of Tanstaafl" alone there are 33 offspring in the "Pawpeds"-database of the breed, from his son "Tanstaafl Yankee Doodle of Purricoon" 24 and from his granddaughter "Kayenta Sedona of Kanab" 21 animals - you can't avoid these cats and their lines in the pedigrees as Maine Coon breeders. Tanstaafl by the way is the kennel name of Beth Hicks, who together with her friend Lynne Sherer (Calicoon) are probably the last two breeders left from these early days - they both started breeding in 1973. Both were active for a long time as breeders as well as internationally as judges - and many of their animals have migrated over the years into the pedigrees "around the world".
5. After 1980 - The modern age
From these humble beginnings, awakened from an almost "extinct and forgotten" state, "reinvented" by a few breeders, the breed - after the ice was broken and the "farm cat" was recognized in more and more breeding associations - experienced a rapid international upswing. Many lovers succumbed to the discreet charm of the bearlike, good-natured "giant cat" and also the skeptical European breeder community of pedigreed cats recognized the "new" old breed from the states as equal. Since the nineties it has filled the exhibition halls and stud books more than any other cat breed and has probably become the best known and most popular cat breed in the world.
This unbroken popularity ensured that more and more breeders imported animals from America to Europe. Especially in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark it came to a "run" on the animals of Barbara "Bunty" Washburn (MtKittery) and Barbara Ray (Willowplace) amongst others. Only a few Scandinavian countries and Great Britain remained quasi "islands" in which, thanks to massive quarantine regulations, only a few animals made it to and in which a narrow gene pool slowly developed, which only after the quarantine conditions had changed in line with EU law - could be refeshed by importing "new bloodlines"- and which inversely provided interesting pedigrees for the Central European lines.
In the early 2000's, the first genetic test for a disease - HCM - that has always affected all cats, so also our breed - which has only been talked about underhand - was published by Dr Meurs, based on Dr Kittleson's study with a very inbred colony of Maine Coon cats from a single, wellknown cattery. This was both hope and despair for the breeders. The gene test series carried out by almost all leading breeders showed dramatic results: 1/3 of the entire breeding stock carried the "defective" gene. Culling all these would have meant - after the narrow beginnings with the prevalent TOP 5 animals - a further genetic bottleneck for the breed. Dr.Meurs first related to the breeders to neuter all genetically afffected animals, but relented later. The result was that breeders worldwide became more and more aware of the health issue related to their animals. Due to the fact that also the information possibilities became better and better it was possible to breed "better" than ever before. Thoughtlessness among breeders and breeding associations, however, prevented so far any eradiction of this illness and led again and again to new problems: FIFe a.e. did change its standard in 2012 from "medium large to large" to only "large", therefore some breeders immediately came up with the idea to breed animals of more and more size until in 2019 the FIFe General Assembly ordered a binding HD examination for our breed: cause and effect - and this in only 7 years? Also the appearance of the breed began - under the influence of a few European and East European catteries - to change in this time to a more extreme expression (which brings with it a new set of health-related problems) - away from the harmony which actually distinguishes the breed. Many of the breeders of the first and second generation stopped in this time and thus had no more any stabilizing influence on this development, which to the subsequent generations must appear as "normal".
6 . The „New Foundations“ - more than a sideway?
The term "Foundation" was first used for the animals which in the years around the recognition of the breed flowed into the gene pool of the breed "Maine Coon", which is in the process of being understood. These were animals that only corresponded to the phenotype and came "from somewhere", as well as those Maine Cats that had "always" been bred by breeders like Ethelyn Whittemore. At some point, however, "new bloodlines" were no longer accepted and only the stud books of the ACA (American Cat Association) were open. Until that time we are talking about "foundation animals". These are an important part of the "Maine Coon Heritage". But breeders like Beth Kus (Dirigo), which is also one of the few "longtimers" from the early years still breeding, continued to integrate animals from the general cat population of Maine into the breed via their lines. And in the years around 2000 the "New Foundations" suddenly appeared in our breed. My personal distinction here is "Old", "Maine" and "New" Foundation. I see the time lines between these three approximately in the years around 1980 between "old" and "Maine" Foundation and around the turn of the millennium between "Maine" and "New Foundation". Others may see this differently, but I personally have less problems with the Mainer Foundations and the interference of "newer blood" before 2000 than with the animals afterwards. Why I do tell later.
Cat registries and breeders follow their own logic. At Mendel F 1 means "filial generation", that means the 1st generation after the "P" - Parental-Generation, which are the foundation animals of a line. So in Mendel an F 1 is already a subsequent generation, while in the cat registries the F 1 is called "Foundation Generation 1" and designates the first animals of a bloodline registered in a stud book. A F1 is a Maine-Coon-Foundation-cat of the first generation. This cat could have been found in the wild, it could come from a farm or a private household. No parent or only one is known and registered. An F2 is a second generation Maine-Coon-Foundation-cat in which both parents are known and registered. And so on. Animals with such gaps or vacancies in the pedigree are of course recognized in almost no association. Especially not as a Maine Coon and so it will only be recognized as a fully-fledged Maine Coon from the moment when a cat no longer has a foundation animal in its pedigree. However, it was then often the case that Maine Coon "New Foundation" animals (F1), with a registration number of the ACA (The American Cat Association Inc.) were included in the stud books of most other associations, if in addition by a registered Maine-Coon breeder living in North America the origin of the cat could be confirmed. Often, because otherwise in the pedigree of the parents generation of an F-1 animal the word "unknown" had to be written - so it was held at least by ACA - depending on association and ingenuity of the respective studbook in the various pedigrees denominations like "Foundation", "Wildstock", or "Eastern Stock" can be found instead.
In the years before and around the turn of the millennium, as the first genetic bottlenecks, caused by the disproportionate use of some popular lines became recognizable - and one must always consider: our breed has with the TOP5% and the "clones" in general already a somewhat limited gene pool, since these are practically "everywhere in it" - breeders came up with the idea to revive this old idea of the foundation animals, off the beaten track of Beth Kus, and to introduce, as they called them, "New Foundations" into the breed. Annoyed by the recurring problems that breeders of the "show lines" were increasingly confronted with, alternatives were sought. The Cattery Thunderpaws (Donna Chase) was to my knowledge the first one after Beth Kus to start working with new blood. Shortly afterwards Judith Schulz (Prairiebaby) joined the team. Then came Phyllis Tobias (Kumskaka) and Julie Spayde (Koontucky) who had also been quite unhappy about the problems they had with the traditional lines. But they didn't want to break away from the breed, so they were happy to possibly do something for their beloved breed in this way. I suppose there was a certain amount of "egoboost" behind it besides the pioneering spirit also, because you attract attention and become better known when you go new ways - for better or for worse. A group of German and Austrian breeders, among others Waltraud Novak (Athabaskes) and the kennels around the catteries Silvercooon and Pequot also started to work with "New Foundations" and introduced them into their breeding lines. Two German breeders, Maria Brook-Blaut (Doublebee) and Marie Luise Hassbach (Tobermory), brought from a road trip through Maine, which they described in detail, humorously and with many pictures, the "FindUs" animals back to Germany, Karin Pfeifle (Cosy Corner) did not come back from her search without cats either.
These animals, as well as the foundations that had flowed into the breeding of Beth Kus in the years after the recognition of the Maine Coon in the various associations, were located somewhere at the "lower end of the standards" - what would still have sufficed in 1969 was of course no longer so easy after 1990. The appearance of these animals is very moderate, they are not so big, the ears are not so big, the type rather lovely and quite a lot don't have the correct chin - but one thought that this would be a good possibility to bring new blood into the old lines, hoped probably also for a certain "hybrid vigor", so these animals were more or less carefully introduced into the existing breeding approaches. On a show I had read in the catalogue that a Dirigo queen was present. Of course I had to go immediately, because the Mainer kennel "Dirigo" is after all a "household name" in the Maine-Coon breed, someone you know. That one of her animals would to be found at a completely unknown breeder in Munich was not to be expected. I was kind of disappointed: the queen was tiny, small, had bad fur, small ears and looked like a somewhat exploded domestic cat - as Persian mongrels sometimes look like in our country - even a German long-haired cat at that time would have had more radiance. My expectation was naturally way too high due to the kennel name: how should this cat kitten, from perfect foundation lines, have looked different? Little did I know about true foundations then. But the COI of this animal was sensationally low. That Dirigo in its lines produced relatively small (seen from the getting bigger and bigger showanimals) and sometimes, due to the natural origin still sometimes rather shy, but still relatively standard animals can be seen for example in Waltraud Novak's male Dirigo Kancamagus Kiss (*2006) here left. Of course this animal is very moderate, but in itself harmonious and in standard and in interaction with show lines he also brought very good offspring, as he is already an F4 with a COI of 9.8%, who already has some animals from show lines as ancestors on one side. And also "Jill of Cosy Corner", one of the F1-Foundations of Karin Pfeifle (below) - who also looked definitely like a Maine Coon, even if very moderate - was in her best times a pretty small 3.5 kilo female.
A foundation cat of the first generations naturally needs a lot of breeding and development work, especially in terms of appearance and size, in order to meet the standard of the breed. This was something that prevented many breeders from working with these lines for longer periods of time, because ultimately a foundation has to be measured against the standard. In addition to this, many breeders are very much interested in the coveted show titles and they simply cannot be reached with a foundation animal, if often even the standard-compliant modern show line animals here cannot keep up with the modern extreme animals - which quasi formed the counter-movement to the foundations. A reasonable breeding always costs money and one normally does not work like a business enterprise with the intention to make a profit or even real profit, but in addition it often happens that these very moderate offspring are very difficult to sell - in comparison to the show line or extreme line kittens. Waltraud Novak remembers: "What did we hope for? Why did we cross the foundations? We wanted more robust, healthier cats with the "modern" type. Unfortunately the "modern" type ran away from us in the development, i.e. the long noses, spoon ears, stilt legs developed faster and changed the phenotype much faster than we followed with the Foundations. And since in the newspapers only pictures of the "spoon crocodiles" were seen, and at exhibitions only the "spoon crocodiles" rated as the "typical" Maine Coon, people only wanted that. And if you can't sell your outcross kittens anymore, because everybody wants the others, then you're on a losing streak. And so the project "Foundation" somehow died. „
I am not sure whether one had really expected that there would be no major problems with the inclusion of "wild catches" in the otherwise already very established breed, because in the years after 1960 - one had to be aware of this - also in the "hinterland", the backwaters of Maine, even if it doesn't look like it, some things changed - not for nothing Colorpoint animals came out of some of the "New Foundation" lines - Siamese or Balinese had arrived here in between and had probably done their part to change the original cat populations genetics. Of course the other problems - because of their accumulation breeders had originally thought of introducing "New Foundations" - did not go away either: HCM, for example, is no disease of the Maine Coon exclusive, even if it sometimes looks so - and logically also the new lines were not spared by it. And some of these animals carried things with them that were previously unknown in the Maine Coon. So one could say that one of the main goals: to make the breed healthier was not necessarily fulfilled.
Since the moderate foundation lines were not able to assert themselves either with the large public, nor in the Showhalls, the actually very meaningfully provided selection criteria for a Foundation, as another breeder expressed it, were then relatively "quickly steeped into the barrel", which was the beginning of the end of the breeding ethics here. All of a sudden, the most famous foundation line breeders introduced well sellable foundation cats on the market, which not only for my taste looked much too much like not exactly moderate show lines, but because the names were introduced, could be sold well. It can never be proven beyond doubt, but her are quite some not invalid rumours that not every foundation cat is actually one. Animals from animal shelters were installed or advertisements for "long-haired" cats were looked through in local newspapers - nobody knows what kind of ancestors these animals really have, because the probability that a "long-haired" cat in an animal shelter is a "real" Maine Coon from known lines is very high. Some of the cats that were introduced under the label "new foundation" to the breed were unregistered offspring of well known lines. And one can confidently assume that some breeders who gave their cats very christian names cheated on their co-breeders quite unchristianly. By the way, I still don't understand why foundation cats - even if they "look like Maine Coon" not only can stem from Maine, but also from Illinois or from Canada's Prairie and in one case I heard - I must emphasize that - that "next door" a backyard breeder, who produced unregistered offspring from show lines, lived. the Canadian Judith Schulz, who has not been breeding for years anymore, remembers her breeding years:
"The cat colonies in this area (Manitoba, Canada) were simply good quality, which you don't see here for example in Thunder Bay, where we live now. Not all longhaired cats look like Persian crossbreeds. There are also very typey varieties in shorthair cats with thick muzzles and big ears. But unfortunately you are never and nowhere safe there....Everything was explained in detail on Pawpeds, my vet even gave me certificates when an animal was delivered to him. These were then enclosed if an offspring went later into breeding. But it is also possible that one or the other cat has show lines somewhere in the background, nobody knows that and I would never deny it with certainty...".
Also animals like Maine-Coon/Housecat-Mixes from Austria, Switzerland and Germany, so-called "Schwarzwaldfounder" or Maine-Coon-Mixes with other breeds have already been sold as foundation animals and ended up in some pedigrees. You can almost never prove this. One can probably still be relatively sure only of the animals that are "discovered" in the rural areas of Maine. And that's, I promised you to explain above, the reason why I personally have less problems with the "Mainer Foundations" of "Dirigo" and the introduction of "newer blood" before 2000 than with the animals that came on the market after that date.
7. Fiction or truth?
In the history of Maine Coon breeding, facts written down many times are mixed with oral tradition and experiences passed on/narrated. Much of what we "know" rests on what the "very old" ones have told us again and again and not on written "hard facts".
Thus it is reported that Conny Condit (Heidi Ho), when she went to Germany with her husband - who was in the American army - took her animals with her. That is the undeniable fact. Not proven is the legend that she included Persian cats in her breeding due to a lack of suitable breeding partners in Germany - although of course one has to say that in the 1970s Persians looked different than they do today - but also at that time they looked different like a Maine Coon. And we also know that the American Persians included "Maine Cats". But not in the European lines, which at that time were still quite separated from them, I think. Be that as it may, the so-called "old German lines" based on Conny Condits were much more short-nosed and furry than the import animals from the USA, which were introduced slowly, with growing popularity of the breed. But also from one of the other "old" animals, "De Richelieu Panda Ring Tip of Miston" (born 1972), it is claimed that he was actually a Persian cat. Well, the modern Persians in America after 1900 were also created with the help of the Maine Cat, so this is a far remembrance of that.
Also mostly only orally it was confirmed that many American breeders exported them to extreme animals to Europe. Only Barbara Ray once wrote me: "I personally, like you, prefer the more moderate, softer types. But you Europeans do like the more feral ones better, so why should i not send them over." Barbara was, of course, a good businesswoman who bred and sold what the market wanted (and in the case with me talked about a red baby male, which I might have wanted at that time) - but I would have to think hard to name really moderate animals from her lines, so a bit of self-deception was probably part of the statement. Some breeders claim that she was seen with 18 crates of cats for export into German at an airport once. Given how widespread they were and how "interesting" her lines will be for the breed (think Kittleson/Meurs) I do believe this. Now the Maine Coon in Europe, especially in WCF and also FIFé , is much more extreme, much more feral in appearance and expression than most of the animals one can see in the USA. Part of this story of selling the more extremes far away may be true. However, there have always been more or even less moderate animals in all lines and at all times, which are all in the standard, since this, thanks to the label "natural breed", is broadly defined in all organizations. It is also true that in Europe the somewhat more feral, more extreme type is clearly preferred more than in America, where breeders still seem to appreciate more moderate, more harmonious animals even if they import more and more "modern" animals from Europe and thus "water down" their own lines. And, yes, these "more feral" animals of american origin are also the basis for the over-typed extreme type which is becoming more and more popular in Europe and which many new breeders in Central and Eastern Europe see as "the original", because they don't know anything else anymore and are suggested that this would be the non-plus ultra and which now is unfortunately creeping into the American catteries as well.
In England in the early 1990s a breeder named David Brinicombe (Keoka) - from parents with completely "unsuspicious" Maine Coon pedigrees - bred a whole range of kittens with curly fur. Mating tests - there were no genetic tests yet - showed no relationship to Devon- and Cornish-Rex, so "breed-mixes" could be excluded. David had christened them "Maine Wave" for fun, but that was not taken very euphonious by his peers. Of course, there was an outcry in the international breeder scene, even it was not clear where this recessive fur variety came from - only one thing was clear to everyone: it is not desired in the Maine Coon either. It is said, however, that it did not only appear in England, which at that time was rather closed to breeding technology thanks to the strict quarantine conditions..
That the basic gene pole of the "origin animals", after so many generations of planned breeding, can also now still l hold other surprises ready - well hidden - should be thus clear.
Of course, all this is only possible because in the early years of Maine Coon breeding many things were still possible, even experimental ones. It is reported that in the early 1970s there was an American Shorthair (ASH) breeder in Memphis, Tennessee, named Mary Bolles. She wanted to have shaded silver American Shorthairs. For this she crossed Abyssinians into her animals. Cheryl Corkran (Cork Cattery) wanted "shaded silver" Maine Coons. She got one of the shaded silver American Shorthairs that Maria had bred out of her crosses. When Cheryl came to the point where she only got long-haired silver animals from this basic stock (and her Maine Coons), she registered them - which was still possible everywhere at that time - as Maine Coon Foundations. The breeder to whom she sold some of her "silver shaded", but in reality ticked, offspring of these animals and who continued to breed these "shades silvers" was Marla Vales (Marala). In this way, the most original of all "agouti" patterns, the "ticked-tabby" mainly assigned with Abyssinians, came into the Maine Coon and has since become indispensable. All ticked Maine Coons from "classic lines" can be traced back to a male called "Cork Felix" way back in their pedigree, and often this line has been unrecognized and hidden by solids and "bad mackereltabbys" until today, when the pattern has gotten "modern", because one then did not think of the ticked-tabby. However, despite the long years, this dominant tabby variant is not recognised in all associations - for example, the CFA accepted this only a few years ago. David Billingsley (Cloistercoon), who bred this pattern variant for a long time, sremarks upon that the story told here above wouldn't be true completely, but as he also he only came to breed years later and the story as I tell it, comes from people who were there at this very beginning - I think they knew that better than he or I. The ticked line David is working with derives in his words not from Marala, so it seems that there is another source for it in the genepool of the Maine Coon still.
And during the search for "foundation animals" for the breed, in the early and mid 1960s, breeders were also found who sold Balinese and Persian hybrids as pure-bred Maine Coons, as these animals were born in Maine. A quote from that time, addressed to breeders in Maine, is: "Just because a cat has kitten in the oven, it doesn't make them biscuits!" Unfortunately, it is not known - although not unlikely - whether some of these animals have also been included in the gene pool of the Maine Coon.
That the Top2-cat "Bridget Katt" was a tortie-smoke, a silver-coloured, red and black solid queen, which is a rather unusual colour for a domestic cat, should only be mentioned marginally in this context. I personally - I emphasize personally - believe in the meantime that she was a Persian hybrid..
8. Forbidden Coulorpoints
In cats there are two genetically different, recessive inherited variants, named "cs" for the Siamese factor or "cb" for the Burma factor. In common usage, the point factor is usually equated with the Siamese cats. Pointed cats are born almost white and only in the course of time and with increasing age the cooler parts of the body like legs, tail, ears and nose gradually become darker. We know that recessive means that an animal showing the points must be pure-bred to this mutation. If both parents are only carriers of the mutation, i.e. do not show it, 25% of the offspring are point cats, 50% are normal coloured carriers and 25% are kittens free of this mutation. Colorpoint - this is the name given to the "non-Siamese breeds", can be tested by the way nowadays. In the three forest cat breeds there is only a Colorpoint variant in the Siberian cat, the Neva Masquerade (NEM), which is counted as a sister breed. Here it is assumed that the Points were deliberately crossed into the Siberians in the 1980s in Petersburg. Other semi-longhair breeds with points are the Ragdoll and the Sacred Birman.
So, what about the Siamese or Color Point markings in the Maine Coon?
Let us once again go back a little in time, to the time when in our assumed history the foundations of the breed, the Maine Cats, were created. I think each of us remembers the above mentioned story of Captain Coon, whose long-haired ship cat is said to have delighted the queens in the New England harbours and after whom the breed was allegedly named. New England captains, who did not only travel the east coast of the USA, but were world-wide on the way, brought along also long-haired or "rare" cats as luxury gift for their families from their trade travels certainly. However, I doubt that there were already point animals there: they were even rarer than early Persians and Angoras - we are talking here about a time when Siamese was still largely "terra incognita" for the West, despite the colonization by English and French in the immediate vicinity - before the middle of the 19th century, because there and then we find the forerunners of our "breed", the Maine Cat, already established.
So we find the "Maine Shag" or "Maine Cat" around 1850 in the rural northeast of the USA - but I dare to bet that there really was no Siamese cat or coloring to be found anywhere. (Side note: besides the "false" word color - points are a partial albinism and not a color - the big ears which decorate our breed now sometimes overly much are geographically wrong and belong only conditionally to a breed whose origins we postulate as "natural" and coming from temperate to cool climate which cries for small and rounder ears. Well, we know, the Maine Coon was created on the basis of the phenotype of the Maine Cat by the early breeders in parts and since then " developed further" - the adage "natural" is not quite true, but beautiful, fiction.)
That Points do not belong to the Maine Coon was postulated during the "revival" of the breed in the 50's and 60's of the 20th century with exactly this assumed "genius locii": in Maine there would not have been any Siamese cats in the time of origin of the breed. (A small voice in me says quite quietly: but around 1900 or 1920 or 1950 certainly already?) The problem was that one of the early Maine Coons, "De Richelieu Panda Ring Tip of Miston" was a point carrier, and also with the animals of the Cattery Sundar one can trace the point line back to "Dauphin de France of Tati-Tan". So it is quite likely that one of the most important 5 animals in our breed, one of the famous Top 5, was also a point carrier. New York, where he was born, has always been a melting pot. Although care was taken to ensure that this trait was not passed on - back then without possible genetic tests, which are available today at any time, hard breeding work - it happened nevertheless, especially with the "old" lines, that notorious point litters have been falling still later on. One of them I could see myself around 1996 on a German FIFe show: what a scandal this was on this show you could imagine - of course completely under the hand (everything walked past the cage with the animals and whispered) and not openly out. Some Maine Coon lines were just known by pedigree researchers to be at least a bit "suspect". Should the point variant ever be recognized, I think this color variant of the Maine Coons can very quickly be re-established with the existing gene pool, albeit combined with some searching.
And then came the New Foundations. Animals that correspond to the breed in a certain way (whether and how these "New Foundations" are "real" and not just pedigreeless descendants of "real" Maine Coons that have been labeled "foundation", we don't need to be interested in here) What these animals genetically "bring along" is of course unclear - so the forbidden Siamese (Point)-pattern came to light again via some of the new foundationlines - which proves among other things that even in the rural, remote area in the hinterland of the American east coast a "pure" natural breed Maine Cat (please not Maine Coon) doesn't exist - or better: no longer exists (increasing prosperity makes even former luxury cats such as Siamese quite "normal", and some of these sometimes "get out" without being neutered) and therefore "New Foundations" might not really make as much sense as hoped for our breed.
In Germany in the years after 2005 some catteries had litters with point kittens. In 2006, a very renowned cattery had a litter with point kittens between the "normal" siblings out of seemingly "normal" parents with "normal" pedigrees and communicated this very openly. And another cattery had a litter of point children and point carriers from "New Foundation" parents in 2007/08 - I saw a picture of these kittens because my mentoree at that time was interested in the litter (which I found suboptimal considering their level of knowledge: "New Foundations" don't belong in beginner's hands - it's much too insecure to work with them) and called "stop!, points". My mentoree actually listened and passed that on. The kittens were tested on CP and yes, they really were. And I'm sure they weren't the only pointe dkittens from "New Foundations". And finally, there are breeders who breed Ragdoll or Sacred Burma at the same time as the Maine Coons. Of course - officially nothing ever happened. Of course it does and we know at least of one concrete case: It was a Ragdoll-Coon-Mix of a German breeder, who found her way to the breeding in a detour, the cat was then praised by the buyer as "Foundation" from California. The breeder herself, when she noticed it, handled it very openly, warned, but it had happened and - I have to say more? And what was happening in Germany is probably happening all over the world.
In general, however, one can postulate that "point" is not one of the colours of the Maine Coon. So for us, the points, like the black modifications "amber", "chocolate", "cinnamon" with their dilutions "light amber", "lilac" and "fawn", do not belong to the Maine Coon. Accordingly, only the basic colours (full colours) black and red, their dilutions and the silver inhibitors are permitted as "colours" - and of course the complete white masking any colour. The TICA is of the opinion that they are only a genetic registry and therefore all colours that are possible have to be accepted, but there is still agreement that no other colours than the canonically permitted ones are allowed in breeding. However, I dare to predict that someday someone will exhibit a cat in fawn or lilac in order to establish the modifier-related colours in the gene pool and show world. It also remains to be seen after Norwegian Forest Cats "amber" and Siberian Cats "Sunshine colours" when a similar mutation of the black gene is found in our breed.
9. Dangers in Maine Coon breeding:
The unbroken popularity of the Maine Coon is of course also a danger for the breed. Currently, the number of Maine Coon breeders in the German-speaking area alone has exceeded that of the entire USA, the much larger country of origin. The fact that in this way not only the best or most suitable animals are used in breeding - especially for beginners - is both a logical consequence and a potential danger. Quite a lot of beginning breeders fall into this trap, buying unsuited animals with often way to related pedigrees because they don't want to wait and are eager to begin. They are a welcome prey for the kittenmills around the globe and work then accordingly as they have (not) learned: without restraint, plan and ideas..
There are some problems which go far beyond those within the animals bred within a single association such as FIFé, but which also influence the breeding within each individual association, because the market, the purchase and sale of breeding animals takes place not only within Europe, within Amerikas, within TICA or within FIFé, but transcontinental and in the interplay between all large associations within the WCC, i.e. primarily the CFA; FIFé, GCCF, TICA and WCF. At the moment the Maine Coon is at least among breeders (whose constantly increasing number at the same time indicates a not insignificant potential of lovers) the most popular pedigree cat. The trend still seems to be unbroken, although it is possible that in Central Europe, for example, the "climax" of this trend has already been passed: more and more breeders are finding fewer and fewer lovers for their "overproduction". This is partly, of course, coupled with the perceived economic and financial situation in large parts of the world at the end of the second decade of the 2000s: the possibility of luxury is felt less - and a pedigree cat is luxury. Apart from that, there is also a certain saturation: if the more than 1,500 German breeders alone produce cat kittens every year, who should buy them all?
In addition there is a much more important problem: If you take the number of official breeders into account - i.e. about 1.500 registered club breeders in Germany alone - we come to 2.000-3.000 males in this area in the breeding. If we also take the "backyard breeders", the breeders not registered in clubs, who sell animals without pedigrees as "Maine Coons", the number of males in these breeds can skyrocket to 4-5,000. All of them are mostly drawn over very similar, i.e. almost exclusively over show winning lines, often of the more extreme optical type (and often neglecting solid breeding and health aspects). The genetic potential of all these animals is therefore much smaller than the number of breeding animals per se. This may not be so noticeable in the 4 generations that you see in the pedigree with the amount of breeders and kennel names, but woe betide you go one or two generations behind. Then one notices how close the pedigrees become genetically.
And what applies here "on a small scale" to the German-speaking area, also applies ultimately more or less - thanks to the interplay of buying and selling - to the rest of the world, the rest of the cat breeding scene, be it within FIFe, TICA or the other associations.
Typical for Maine Coons for a long time were the eyes described as "owl-like" with clearly recognizable rings of different color, a chirping meowing, the famous "coo-nisch", an "all-weather fur" seen as "shaggy" which presented different harmoniously merging fur lengths and an overall harmonious appearance. Nowadays, under the influence of a few specific lines, we often see animals with completely different, much more extreme and extremely feral, wildcat-like habitus. The har-mony required in the standards is often neglected here in favour of "expression", in favour of a few characteristics such as ears or muzzle and possibly still size. And some of these extreme cases in our breed seem to be a completely new, different breed.
You will often hear the distinction between "old" lines and "new" lines. When we talk about old lines it should actually mean the lines that were there from the beginning - no matter what the offspring of these animals looks like - and new lines are the "New Foundations". However, it is used differently and is actually only attached to an extreme, over-typed look. I have to say that for me this distinction makes no sense, because "old" lines would suggest that nothing has changed with them and only the "new" lines have changed, and that's not true either. The differentiation here alone, as it is handled, to make dependent on the appearance of the cat is pointless, because also with the extreme line breeders more moderate animals come again and again into the world, which can be "counted" optically then easily to the "old lines". Because we must not forget that even at the beginning of the breeding work of the extreme line breeders there is: their animals are from "old" lines and there not yet so shaped - so I can bear these animals from the lines of origin, the first three generations of the first of these extreme breeding catteries, as well as early animals from breeders who later derailed differently, in pedigrees. However, I would not want to see a moderate representative of these lines in my family trees - even if the extreme breeders did not use anything "new" but only tickled out what was genetically possible with their animals - and thus changed the face of their lines sustainably and possibly created "new" - namely, as mentioned above, a new breed. What is meant by "new lines" is actually the combination of a pedigree, which always has the same kennel names - from kennels, which are known for extreme and over-typed animals - or pedigrees, which are based on these kennels alone if you go further back - plus the corresponding extreme appearance. But that still doesn't make them "new lines".
I would prefer "extreme type" over "standard type" as an expression, because it says more clearly what it is here in the eyes of the viewer: only a phenotypic distinction based on breeding preferences and breeding ambitions.
But what is an "extreme type"? What the "extreme type" will be for you you will see in time. I mean animals that are always at the top of the standard (if we set a scale from 0= insufficient over 50 = perfect & harmonious in the standard to 100 = all breed typical characteristics extremized) or emotionally beyond that. Animals where you say "WOW". A perfectly standard, harmonious animal looks beautiful on a stage. WOW" has an extreme effect. Thank God there are no points for this effect yet. This is called over-typification: exceeding the morphological or physiological or even only optically justifiable variation limits by increasingly extreme breeding goals. Unfortunately, these animals are often, even if very impressively, no longer harmonious. And also unfortunately we like these animals again and again, because they stand for a possible future of the breed, which we shouldn't want to have, the example of the Persian and Siamese breeding should be warning enough for us here. It must also be considered that most of these "extreme" animals have been bred over the same few ancestors and lignias, which can lead to a new narrowing ("genetic bottleneck") of the genetic material of the breed and has already partially in Central Europe.
But also by the "New Foundations", which partly correspond only very conditionally to the "old type" of the Maine Coon, there are changes in the nature and appearance. "New Foundations" are animals taken from the "natural population" without a trunk tree, which - with doubtful success - are moved into the Maine Coon to expand the gene pool, a trend that has been particularly noticeable since the second half of the 1990s. There is one thing you need to know about this: Since the stud books within the individual associations for the breed are still not all closed, it is theoretically and practically still possible to confiscate "foundation animals". Most of these animals came by the way over a only American association, the ACA (The American Cat Association Inc.) into the various pedigrees. What one should also know is that not every "foundation" is really one.
Although these animals are not able to keep up in all points which the allegedly "original" Maine Coon should distinguish and distinguish, thus - the one, the modern "European Showlines" too extreme, the others as "wild stock" likewise in total rather at the very lower end of the laid down standards settled - they are in the meantime nevertheless both an essential and increasingly popular part of the race due to breeding selection and joy of experimenting - or cluelessness. They correspond to a large extent "somehow" (at the upper or at the lower end of the "allowed") also to the standard, because this has always been - a heritage of the assumed "natural race origin" - very broadly defined, but this is to be seen with caution, because for example by the frequent use of very popular over-typed "extreme animals" by breeders, who "know nothing else" and have little knowledge of the generations before, may need to change the existing standards, for example in the case of FIFé the almost unchanged one in force since 1992, in the direction of this very popular "extreme" - which cannot be in the interest of the breed. It is clear that both the "inconspicuous" "New Foundations" and the animals standing in the middle of the standard "fall down the back". This is a development, whose consequences for the breed - optically as well as genetically - are still difficult to assess, de me personally, thinking of the fate of the Persian and Siamese cats, filled with some concern. Please don't misunderstand me: I have nothing against harmonious, fertile animals that are and remain within the standard - but over-typing is not really good for any breed - not even for the Maine Coon and no matter how modern it is and how much it is propagated to breed with it.
To counteract this is not only the task of the breeders, but also of the judges within the associations. Although they can only judge what they see on a show, they strengthen certain trends if they show a preference for the "extremes" effective at the stage over the "normal types", because many, especially new, breeders want to buy then, in the hope also and in the belief that this would be the right way, of course descendants of these preferred winners..
(Authors note: Henning Mueller-Rech has been breeding Maine Coon under the prefix Canalettos since 1989.
He was the regional director of MCBFA for the non-american regions, is the past secretary of FIFe's Maine Coon Breed Council and also of DEKZV's breed and registrations commitee. He also is past president of MCA and past Vice-president of 1.BKC e.V )