The Maine Coon’s behaviour, personality, and loyalty are particularly doglike for a cat. A relatively modern breed, its development goes back just over two hundred years. It is one of the largest breeds of domestic house cat, with males growing up to 18 pounds at maturity, and it is the only cat that can be claimed to be truly North American in origin.
Originating in the American Northeast, its personality made it a popular house pet, and its hunting skills let it earn its keep as a mouser. It is a long-haired breed, having evolved to survive cold eastern winters. The coat is coarser than other longhaired breeds so it doesn’t tangle as readily, and thus requires less frequent grooming. The dense, bushy tail, roughly the length of the body, is used for both balance and agility while hunting and as insulation to stay warm while at rest.
Despite its current popularity, the breed’s true origin remains uncertain, although many myths have arisen to account for its appearance. The Genetic Impossibility theory suggests it arose from crossing local domestic cats with bobcats (or, as the name suggests, raccoons, presumably explaining the breed’s large size, pointed ear tips, and bushy tail.) The Romantic theory would posit a French connection suggesting Marie Antoinette attempted to escape France during the Revolution, packing her belongings, including several longhaired cats, on a New England-bound ship. This theory has the ship arriving without her (decapitation having caused her to rethink her travel plans), but carrying her cats, which presumably proceeded to breed with the local short-haired cat population.
A more likely explanation is that the Maine Coon is a result of evolution and natural selection at work: the survival of the fittest. Cats have been popular and useful pets for centuries, both onboard ships and on farms as mousers. The arrival in New England of people from all across Europe blended larger, short-haired cats from mainland Europe with stockier, longhaired varieties from Scandinavia and the north. Generations of evolution produced a cat well equipped to survive harsh winters.
The Maine Coon’s popularity skyrocketed in the late 1800s, where it won many Best in Show categories at major cat shows in New York, Boston, and Chicago. But its popularity dwindled at the turn of the century with the introduction of exotic long-haired breeds like the Persian and Himalayan, to a point where it was labelled extinct in the 1950s. Yet cat fanciers managed to resurrect the breed and restore it to its previous levels of popularity, making it now the second most popular breed in North America. No wonder it’s said cats have nine lives!