"This page was originally a part of the Maine Coon Heritage Site, a site that was first created in 1998 by Cynthia Bowen (Coontopia), Ulrika Olsson (Ylletrollets), Astrid Straver (Tricks and Tails) and Janet Marr (Furkats). It was then taken over by PawPeds, and it is now split up to fit better with the structure of PawPeds' website."
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The Origin of the Maine Coon

Reprinted from "The Scratch Sheet":

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The Origin of the Maine Coon - Part I

Beth and Mike Hicks (Tanstaafl Maine Coons) and Rick Branham conduct a candid interview with the late Don Shaw, TICA Allbreed Judge, geneticist and outspoken genetics editor of "Cats" Magazine. Don Shaw, in Memphis to judge the Memphis Cat Fanciers show on March 20-21, 1976, graciously agreed to be interviewed by a panel of Maine Coon breeders on the origin of the Maine Coon cat. The interview was conducted in the home of a Memphis cat fancier. It was taped and then transcribed verbatim.

DS - I personally feel that the Maine is the result of what nature was permitted to do with the cat on the north Atlantic coast of the North American continent. During the period of the exploration of this area, the rats and pests on board ships were a great problem. Cats were great seamen's omens and they carried them constantly on ships. Like their shipmates, the cats jumped ship from time to time. The cats that did escape and were on the coastline of the North American continent had to survive in those winters that did occur. If you really look at the structure of the Maine and you look at the coat of the Maine, I think that it is the kind of thing you might have expected nature to produce starting with a lot of raw material. Evolution has supplied us a great deal of genetic variation. The cat is a very good example of this because we have a tremendous amount of genetic variation in the general group of feline species. When nature is permitted to operate then those structures that will make that cat most survivable in that terrain will be the ones that will show up because the animals that have them will survive better than the animals which did not have them. They will be the ones that survive until spring to breed and reproduce. I think that is what happened in Maine. If you look at the Maine Cat, I think you will see these features - the long legs, the long body - these help them to get through snow, through terrain, through wooded areas, over things.
 
BH - In the standard, it calls for medium legs and a long body for a rectangular shape.
 
DS - Well, medium legs only in the sense that they are medium in regard to the length of the body. If you took their legs in regard to the legs of other cats, I think you'd find that they would be relatively long because the Maine is a relatively large cat in general. But with the extremely long body, the legs do not appear to be as long as they are. They are also a heavy-boned cat, a characteristic which given them a great deal of stamina and sturdiness with regard to being able to move through heavy terrain and rugged country. Dainty-legged things would not survive in those heavily wooded areas with tangles, snow, slush - that type of thing. The coat - sparse underneath, relatively, as far as very long shagginess is concerned, but shaggy down the back and down the sides. If it were very heavy underneath, it would only accumulate snow and as this would melt, it would freeze and refreeze. The result would be a matted mess and would cause a great deal of problems in getting through wilderness. The coat on top is insulative from nature; it sheds water and snow and the wind that the cat would have to face in those kinds of winters.
 
BH - Why the shortness (of coat) in the shoulders?
 
DS - I would say that the shoulders of the cat are the widest part of the cat. If you can get your shoulders through something, you can get your body through it. Remember these cats are having to make their way through the wild and must move rapidly from time to time in order to survive. If you had a heavy, shaggy coat on the shoulder area, this would tend to hang up on knotholes, hollow trees, crevices between rocks, running under branches and logs, etc., while evading your pursuer. I am not by any means implying teleolistic concepts here; they did not develop short coats on the shoulders so they could get through these places. I am saying that the short coat is due to the fact that the animals that did not hang up in the brush were the ones that tended to survive to breed in the spring that followed.
 
RB - What kind of texture would the coat be for it not to mat?
 
DS - The guard hair, or top coat, on a Maine should be a rather hard hair. That is, they would be a slick hair and would have a full cuticle on it. That's what would stand the kind of conditions we've been talking about. The undercoat, or awn hairs, would be soft but fine and strait, not the curled or kinked hair that you find in the awn coat of some cats like the blue Persian. The down coat would be very soft and very close-lying, but also very dense. This gives you a great deal of support to keep the upper coat off of the body so that it does not tend to mat next to the body. A long, silky coat mats and kinky awn hair coats mat. This would be very disadvantageous to a cat who is surviving in wilderness conditions. We are not talking about Maine today - even though anybody that has been to Maine in February can still consider it a wilderness - but we are talking about the Maine of, like, 400 years ago. They were completely at the mercy of nature then; they couldn't huddle under houses, shacks, or man-made structures. They would have had to depend entirely upon what was available in the way of caves, rock notches, hollow logs, trees, and things of this type in order to bed down and keep warm to sleep. I think you can see that a very long, bushy coat like a Persian with that heavy, dense undercoat would be very detrimental and be hung up in the brambles about half the time.
 
RB - How would that kind of coat feel to the hand?
 
DS - Well, I am having mixed emotions because I am describing a coat and I am also thinking at the same what I feel on Maines that I think feel right. What you see in the show room and what you know that nature would have produced aren't always the same thing. This is kind of difficult because when I feel a Maine coat that really turns me on, what I get is a feeling of softness and, at the same, a feeling of firmness or hardness to the coat. It isn't silky like you want on an Angora, but it is also not bristly hard. It has a resilience to it. The individual hairs have substance and glassy hardness about them, and yet the total effect with the substantial undercoat is a bushy softness as you stroke the cat.
 
MH - Why do Maine Coon cats have big feet?
 
DS - Oh, snowshoe rabbits have big feet, do I need to say any more? It gives them better traction; better support on a soft, snowy surface which they had to spend a great deal of their lives on.
 
MH - Why tufts on the feet?
 
DS - Same reason, it gives you more structure on the foot for support on the snow. It's like putting on a snowshoe. Tufts are light, yet they distribute the weight on a larger surface so the feet don't push down in the snow. And, of course, for warmth as well.
 
MH - Why large ears?
 
DS - Probably because they had to depend a great deal on their hearing. The ones that survived were the ones that heard the best and had the best directional hearing. Large ears will give you a better funneling in of sound from specific directions. Maines also have tremendous ability to move their ears. The Maine should be noted for being able to funnel the sound from almost - I would say that they can move their ears probably 75 to almost 90 degrees. Abys have this - denoting closeness to their wild form.
 
MH - Wouldn't a cat with very large ears in a very cold climate have trouble with their ears freezing?
 
DS - The Maine is more heavily furred on the ear than most cats. Also the ear structure on the Maines that I have seen that have been very good Maines, or what I thought were very good Maines, tend to have a thicker ear structure than some others. You also have to remember that they are not going to be out flailing around with those ears standing high in the air unless they have something that is attracting their attention. They do lay their ears back, and the Maine is one of the cats that does tend to lay its ears back.
 
MH - Why a long tail, especially a long, bushy tail?
 
DS - The tail is a sort of a rudder or steering gear for animals - maybe that's why man is so clumsy. If you are going to use a tail in a lot of slushy, cold, windy, snowy weather, you don't want a tail that keeps getting caught in the snow; if it is furry and fluffy it will lie on top of the snow and not tend to submerge into it. That also protects it from cold. It would give them a great deal of rudder power in running, moving and maneuvering at a rapid pace making short turns because you have more balance.
 
RB - Don't you think that this would also be a big factor in keeping the thin parts of the face warm since the cat could curl the tail across its face?
 
DS - In the resting position, insulation on the tail can be used to cover head and face and shoulder areas which are less furred. Remember you want them less furred because they are the leading part that would tangle when you go through things. So there would be a double advantage to having extra fur on the tail and extra fur on the body because as they curl up, they could insulate the parts that are sparsely furred. If you notice foxes and a lot of other fur-bearing animals of the north countries, they have these kinds of tails. You can visualize little foxes in their holes with themselves just curled all up in their tails, and you can hardly tell which end of them is where.
 
BH - Our current standard calls for tufts on top of the ears and tufts that curl back behind the ears, but this is something that we are not seeing very often in show rings. Even on one cat here in town, with what I would consider a perfect coat otherwise, there are no top-tufts. Is this something that has just been put in the show standard or is this something that would have helped the cat?
 
DS - Let's look and see if it was there or if it is something we are asking for. Whether it has aesthetic value or not, that's another thing. It has aesthetic value to me because I like tufting (agreement here that we all like it and wish we could get it consistently). But that shouldn't be our reason necessarily for deciding whether to leave it or take it out of a standard. If you want the Maine cat to be what nature produced it to be, then let's see if tufting should have been there. Probably the Maine cat's major progenitors from Europe were the products of the breedings between the European wildcat, Sylvester, and the Asiatic cats which are very much like the Aby. Now both of these cats are tufted, so the earlier cats we would have expected to be tufted. Most of the wild cats of Asia tend to be tufted, that is, the small wild cats. So I expect tufting was a native phenomenon. Does it have an advantage in the survival system of New England? Back to where Mike was talking about the largeness of the ears; yes, tufting gives extra insulation. Also, without adding weight, it gives mass to the ear for funneling sound in. You see, the Maine is peculiar in that it has heavy bone and muscular structure, and yet it has a lot of other mass which is not weight mass. This makes it a much more massive cat than it actually weighs to be if it is in proper structure - which, again, is important in moving on snow. A Burmese would have one hell of a time in snow - that is a good Burmese, a chunky Burmese. They are all solid and have relatively slender legs that would plunge right into the snow and there they are - a little bundle stuck right in the middle of the snow. The Maine's weight and mass is distributed in length and in coat, giving more buoyancy to the weight.
 
BH - The width at the base of the ear - does this increase the mobility?
 
DS - Width at the base increases the funneling capacity. The things that hit you up here aren't all that important, it is what gets down in the base of the ear that you hear.


© "The Scratch Sheet", Summer 1976.
Reprinted with permission.

 

The Origin of the Maine Coon - Part II

This article is the second of three installments of an interview conducted with Don Shaw in Memphis in March, 1976. Mike Hicks, Beth Hicks, and Rick Bramham talked with Mr. Shaw. The interview was taped and then transcribed verbatim. Virtually the only editing done was the striking of some repetitious phrases.

MH - This is almost guaranteed to start a fight somewhere - if you had to pick out a number of breeds to create a gene pool to produce the Maine Coon cat, bearing in mind the evolution and conditions they were living under, which cats would you throw in?
 
DS - If you took today’s show breeds and you wanted to build a gene pool that would produce something that would assimilate or mimic looking like a Maine, what breeds would be the most effective ones to use? If that sort of like what you are asking?
 
MH - And also what was most likely to have happened back then? What breeds were available?
 
DS - Well, the cats that were available then were basically the stock that has produced all the breeds you now see. Except the Malay cats; though they might have been somewhat involved, the Malay cats were not heavily involved because the traffic between the Orient and the North American area probably wasn’t very heavy. The cats from Europe are primarily the ones we are going to be concerned with because they are the ones that would have gotten over here. Strangely enough, the European cat, by that time, already has what is the basic stock for the Persian which gives us the heaviness of coat and the length of coat. They already had the stock which is now being reimported called Turkish Angora because the Angora-type coat predated, really, what we now have in the show ring as a Persian coat. So that is basically where our coats come from - it is a combination of the Persian-type coat and the Angora-type coat. Along with the European wildcat coat - the Sylvester coat is pretty much like an American Shorthair coat in the sense that it is a hard coat - it is a weather coat and tends to be a shag coat. The Maine combined these basic components - the length of guard hair and the texture of guard hair, and the straightness of undercoat or awn hair coat which probably came from the stock that developed into the Angora. The Angora, you see, has the long silky undercoat - it is not bushy or kinky. A good Persian in 1900, if you felt it in the show ring today, would probably feel like a brillo pad. They have already breed the Persian with the Angora - the Persian breeders don’t like to hear about that. The original Persian coat was a very harsh coat - it was like a brillo pad. You find this on blue Persians more than any other Persian now - this bushy coat that is a bit harsh to the feel sometimes when you get a really tight one. The silkiness was bred in deliberately to soften the coat and to lengthen the coat. At one time, they started trying to get away from the use of the term Persian and go to the use of the term longhair to alleviate the more asthetic feelings some people have for misuse of the term because today’s show Persian is not the pure old form of Persian coat.
 
BH - There is a cat called a Norwegian Forest Cat that, I believe, is shown in Europe. From the information we have received, it is very similar to the Maine. Wouldn’t you say that this is not necessarily the ancestor of the Maine, that the similarity is because these cats developed in the same type of climate?
 
DS - In the same type of terrain, in the same situation. Using the same gene pool, they would come up with the same answer. I haven’t seen one but this would not surprise me at all. In fact, I would suspect that if we got up on the Steppes of Siberia - in fact, when we do get on the Steppes we find that the old Archangel was not a cat unlike the one we are talking about. (At this point, there was some general discussion about a small wild cat called a Russian Steppe Cat. Mike and I have seen one and found the resemblance between it and the Maine remarkable.)
 
MH - What do you think about the suggestions that there is American Bobcat or Canadian Lynx in the background of the Maine Coon?
 
DS - I doubt it. I doubt it very seriously. The basic components that are in the Maine Coon were already well established in domestic cats and therefore such hybridization would not have been particularly beneficial. It certainly wouldn’t have been necessary to get what you have got in the Maine Coon. It might make a nice story for people who want to go in for legends and tales like the kink Siamese - kinked their tails in order to carry the Princess’s ring. Those kind of fairy stories make good copy but they don’t make good genetics. I suspect that today’s Maine bred to a Bobcat would produce sterile offspring. They would probably be intermediate in appearance to the two parent species. You have to remember that the Lynx is a product of parallel evolution because the Maine Coon and the Lynx came from the same basic stock somewhere back down the line and there has been parallel evolutions at different times in the same terrain with basically the same kind of genetic material. So they would be very similar despite the fact that - like we were talking about with the Norwegian cat - it has a great deal in common with the Maine but it doesn’t that it is the progenitor of the Maine. The both has a common progenator. They both evolved in a similar situation though maybe with a time gap of several hundred years between the time the Maine was reintroduced or, rather, the genetic material was reintroduced in the domesticated cat form, so the Maine would evolve parallel to and slightly behind the evolution of the Bobcat.
 
RB - When you talk about the cat fancy today, you can almost divide your basic body types into the cobby, heavy boned cat and into long, light cats.
 
DS - And then we have that large group in the middle who do other things with it. You have the long, lithe cat of the Malay body. I usually like to think of it as the Malay body rather than the Siamese body because that implys a breed. The Siamese body is the exemplification of the Malay body just as the American Shorthair that is being shown in the show ring today is an exemplification of the sturdy, shortened, heavier, blocky body. Neither one of them are what nature produced. Nature tends to produce mediocre things, not the extremes.
 
RB - Aren’t Maines the only breed that has put these two - long length with heavy bone - together?
 
DS - In the American cat fancy today, that’s true. The Maine is one of those exceptions where you have the heavy bone structure and the length of body and the length of head, too. But I don’t think it is because it is combining the Malay body with the heavier Persian bone structure. I mean it is a selection out of a pool before those two were split off. It was a selection taken out the middle. It became a survival advantage as we discussed earlier. It would have a terrific survival advantage in snow. I think you can just sort of envision that yourself. Being able to loop over rather than trot along is a rather important thing. With the long body you can get over things and loop through snow more efficiently than you can with a little short cabby body - if your back legs and your front legs are only 6" apart you are going to have a hell of a time getting over anything that is 8" long.
 
BH - What is the maximum size that we can reasonably expect to get consistently? Now, we are not trying for 30 and 40 pound Maines. That’s a myth just like a lot of other things.
 
DS - I would say that somewhere between 12 and 18 pounds would be a reasonable size Maine. A size that you could expect to produce consistently; a cat that I think might have survived consistently. I think when you are talking about cats that are over twenty pounds, unless you are talking about the big structured cats in the wild, you are asking for an unreal thing.
 
RB - What will happen if people start going for size totally? Breeding the largest to the largest. What limit is there to that kind of thing?
 
DS - I don’t know what is within the gene structure. I don’t know until we get there. That’s the beautiful part about nature - you never know what is available until you have gotten there.
 
BH - We have got two seven month old kittens that both weigh ten pounds.
 
DS - Now is it going to be avoirdupois tissue or is it going to be muscle and weight?
 
RB - It is muscle. Their body tone is just like that Leopard cat. (Note: Don was staying with a friend who owns Leopard cats - a small spotted wild cat from Southeast Asia.)
 
DS - Now, if you can get that then maybe you can go to twenty pounds.
 
RB - We realize that we want a cat that is agile.
 
BH - Well, they were hunters who had to survive. They have got to be powerful & muscular.
 
MH - What would be the disadvantage to having a cat with all these characteristics be thirty to thirty-five pounds?
 
DS - Well, when we start putting weight as a characteristic in the standard..... the reason I would sort of hedge and argue on this is I am afraid when you put things like that in your standard, people are going to begin to fatten rather than breed the lean, muscular, hard cat. Particularly in the cat fancy because we tend to cage. If you are going to have large numbers of cats, they usually don’t get the kind of exercise that they get in the wild. If this cat had to run ten or twelve miles through heavy terrain every day in order to catch his food and maintain a weight of 25 pounds that’s one thing. When he walks around in his 4 by 4 cage all day long and eats his food because he is too damned bored to do anything else - that kind of 25 pound weight is not going to cut it. I would rather you maintain the physical, muscular stamina and the sturdy physical appearance of the Maine rather than talk about its size.
 
MH - Would you say that a cat that weighed 25-30-35 pounds in the wild and had to find food to support that type of mass, would probably have died out?
 
DS - Yea, no animal can develop a mass ..... to maintain a body weight you have to have a caloric intake that balances that body weight. You can maintain any body weight you want to maintain but you have got to have a balanced caloric intake because moving that body weight around requires more energy than moving a smaller body weight around. The size of an animal will be determined then by the availability of food to some degree. That certainly would have been true in Maine. We have also got to remember that small rodents were rather prolific and small rodents have a great survival capacity. Before mankind began to evolve methods of rodent control and animals were left to do their own balancing, there was a considerable amount more food available in Maine than there is now. We shouldn’t say just Maine, though Maine may be the name you have got on your cat, that whole area of the North Atlantic coast along there certainly was involved in the evolution of this cat. It didn’t just occur in Maine.
 
MH - Do you think the large size would tend to slow the cat down?
 
DS - When we are talking about size, we have really got to talk about whether the size is due to bone and muscular weight or whether the size is due to mass of fat tissue. A large animal who has long, strong, sturdy bone structure and good long, firm muscles on that bone structure can move as rapidly as a slender animal. What they do not have, perhaps, is the agility. That is the capacity to turn sharp. But as far as forward movement is concerned, muscular and bone mass is not going to be a tremendous impedance to forward movement. It will impede agility. The Maine cat had a situation of both to cope with - agility and forward movement over heavy terrain were important for survival. So they had to reach a balance between how fine they wanted to be to keep the necessary agility to dodge, to dart, to twist, to turn and, at the same time, keep the capacity to move, to stretch out, to get over logs, over bramble, over snow, over heavy terrain in a forward motion system. They had to be balanced and that is a nip and tuck thing.
 
MH - We have discussed a number of facets and features of the Maine Coon cat, would you care to stick your neck out and make a declarative statement as to what was the origin of the Maine Coon cat?
 
DS - I would say the Maine Coon is an evolution projection of the feral cat that escaped from explorers that explored the North Atlantic coast. Probably from the time that the Nordics hit before Columbus up to and including the landing of Columbus. Probably there was even some input after colonization. I would say that the same stock that the Norwegian Forest Cat comes from is basically the same stock that the Maine Coon comes from. I am not saying that it itself is the progenitor, I am saying that the same kind of stock which evolved into that cat is the same kind of stock that was brought here, and under similar circumstances evolved into a very similar cat.

 

© "The Scratch Sheet", Fall 1976.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

The Origin of the Maine Coon - Part III

This article is the last of three installments of an interview conducted with Don Shaw in Memphis in early March, 1976. Mike Hicks, Beth Hicks, and Rick Bramham talked with Mr. Shaw. The interview was taped and then transcribed verbatim.

RB - We talked a little about polydactyls and why, they have .....
 
DS - Yeah, that is a simple genetic dominant. It has variable expressivity in that it can have ..... It has extra digits. How many extra digits and how well formed those digits are is subject to some modification. The basic gene that causes extra digits is a simple dominant.
 
RB - Is that a beneficial thing for a Maine Coon to have?
 
DS - Well, it would have given them ..... Well, the snowshoe rabbit again we mentioned before in the polydactyl type phenomenon and it would have given extra supportive mass - area mass not weight mass.
 
RB - But because it is variable in expression you could have problems if you tried to breed for that? Would you have problems with defects? There are a couple of Maine Coon breeders interested in keeping this.
 
DS - I cannot give you any good reason why not to have a polydactyl Maine if that is what you want. I mean I cannot give you any good selective reason as to why it would be advantageous or disadvantageous; whether a polydactyl is healthier or less healthy than other cats. I will say that some personal experience with the poly is that they do have some dexterity with the front feet that’s rather interesting. They can climb in a different way than other cats. They do not climb by simply hanging their claws in but they actually use the thumb-like digit.
 
RB - Would this enable them to handle their food in the same way as a raccoon which may be part of the reason for .....
 
DS - Well, polydactyls can do that to some degree. There are other cats that can, too. The poly would tend toward the more thumb-like phenomenon and therefore the adaptation would be there to do this.
 
BH - I don’t know if you are familiar with it but there was a study done by someone connected with a university in the 1950’s which showed that 40% of the Maines were polydactyls. Now, this was before they came back on the show circuit.
 
DS - That wouldn’t surprise me at all. It would certainly ..... regardless of whether it gives them an increased capacity for climbing on slick surfaces or rocky surfaces which I know from personal experience from the poly who used to climb the lattice work posts that were holding up my patio roof. He’d go up them like a monkey! That could have some advantages in their survival. Being able to handle food with more dexterity would certainly have some survival advantages. But I think we could definitely say, I don’t think anybody would argue with us, that the increased area - the area mass increase compared to the weight mass increase of the polydactyl’s feet - would give them a greater capacity to walk on snow. That alone would be sufficient selective advantage that it would not surprise me at all that polydactyl was very prevalent. If it was ever introduced, it would have become prevalent in that area.
 
RB - Where did it come from? What raw material carried that?
 
DS - We don’t really know. Polydactyls have been popping up in cat populations universally. I am sure that it was in the European cat in 1500, 1400, 1300’s. But what was it’s original origin, whether it was from an Asian origin or an African origin, I have no idea. I don’t think anybody can speculate on that. We know mostly about it because of the British. The British write about it and the British talk about it but that doesn’t mean that that’s where it happened. We tend to think things happened with a British background because that’s where we found out about them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where they occurred. The British found them and exploited them. Thus it becomes known to us as of British origin. That’s particularly been true in the cat fancy. We give a British origin to a lot of things that really did not originate in the British cats per se.
 
RB - You don’t, then, foresee any real problems in breeding polys. It is not like taillessness?
 
DS - No, the skeletal abnormality involved here is not one that is deformative in the sense that it carries any ill effects to the animal. Living with a poly for a year and a half, I saw that he was as healthy and happy as any cat. His capacity to do whatever he did was only enhanced If anything by the structure. I find nothing I would say that would be against it. Expect it is aesthetics, if you don’t like it aesthetically then - you know.
 
RB - People say that a Maine Coon sometimes appears out of a shorthaired litter. In other words a longhaired recessive pops up and these cats appear all over the country. Can you call those cats Maine Coon cats? If they have the type, appearance and the coat?
 
BH - In the 1960’s, a lot of foundation stock was registered all over the country because it appeared to fit the Maine Coon standard though most of it, I would say, out of longhairs.
 
DS - Let me put it this way. Some associations had and some still have a rather open registration system and you can go out here in the streets of Memphis this afternoon and you could probably pick up 25 or 30 cats and put them in a breeding colony. We could get out of them some cats that are point-colored and would conform fairly well to the Siamese standard. At least, we wouldn’t disqualify them in the show ring as having such insufficient merit that they do not warrant being considered in the breed. We could also, out of that group of cats that we picked up off the streets of Memphis, produce an animal that would conform sufficiently to the Maine Coon standard to be able to be shown without being disqualified for insufficient merit. I would ask you this - is the Siamese a Siamese and is the Maine a Maine? Both of them came out of this breeding population. I say that neither one of them is truly a Maine nor is the other one a Siamese. They are the selected remnants of things that have been in the Siamese and selected remnants of things that have made up a Maine which are in the general population of cats now running the streets of most major cities. Our wild population in the streets of any large city now are an accumulation of all the mistakes and the dropouts and the escapes and what have you. So, any large cities’ cat population in the wild has practically all of the genetic material necessary to produce any breed being shown.
 
MH - With that in mind, what would be your recommendation to purebred cat breeders in regard to foundation registry?
 
DS - You don’t really want me to talk about purebred cat breeders. Because I have got one word for purebred cat breeders. The only thing pure about it is the bull _____! Let’s talk about pedigreed breeders because pedigreed breeders is a meaningful statement. Pedigreed breeders means people who project the linage of their cats over a given period of time and a given number of generations. I have come over the years to appreciate the fact that we do have to have; if you want consistancy, if you want to buy two cats and they are both supposedly ..... you buy two cats that are Maine Coons and you want them to produce like progeny, you can do that only with honest, pedigreed lines. The cat that we got out of those 25 or 30 - if we breed it to a Maine, it may produce lovely kittens. It also may produce American Shorthairs in the litter, it may produce Siamese in the litter .....
 
RB - Whoa, Don, two longhairs won’t produce a shorthair since longhair is recessive.
 
DS - No, but you could get all sorts of body types and coat textures and things popping out of it. The only way you can consistently get progeny from two parents that are going to be like unto them is if they are from pedigreed lines where you know that they are going to consistently do it. It is controlled knowledge. As I say, the cat we pick up on the street that we could put in the show and I would show as a Maine could be bred and it might produce Maine Coons.
 
MH - May I infer from that then, that you would recommend the outlawing of foundation registry?
 
DS - No, I am not saying that I outlaw foundation registry. I am saying that what we should do is to try to let people know the difference between buying an honestly pedigreed cat from one who is foundation record or one who is unknown by unknown. In the sense, that if you buy a cat from unknown by unknown that tells you exactly that - you can get whatever happens to come out of unknown by unknown, regardless of what it looks like. If you buy two cats out of honestly pedigreed - and I am going to keep stressing the word "honestly" pedigreed - cats then you have a 95% chance of getting cats that are going to fall within the showable range of its parents. I think we can sell cats and we should sell them on that basis. We should sell pedigreeing on that basis. Honesty of pedigree. That if you buy my cat with its pedigree then you can know that you will consistently get this type of cat if that’s what you are interested in. That is not to say you can’t get a cat that looks like this one, acts like this one, and so forth and it might even produce kittens like this one - it might, but you don’t know. It’s how much chance you want to take.
 
MH - Which is what breeding pedigreed cats is all about - getting like kittens.
 
RB - With a breed like the Maine which is not new but is new in pedigrees, you had to start with foundation registry. I mean, you didn’t have pedigreed cats.....
 
DS - Everybody started with foundation registry. God did not make any pedigrees! (General laughter)
 
RB - ..... you’d be better off getting a Maine type cat from the Northeast than elsewhere.
 
BH - Wait a minute, let me give you some background on what he’s thinking about before you answer that. There are or have been in the past approximately 10 to 15 separate and different lines of Maines. All the registered Maines in existence now have only got that much in the gene pool. Ten different lines - foundation cats that we know about. There has been discussion lately that this is a tremendously small gene pool - not for now but for ten years from now. A need for more bloodlines is seen by some breeders but encouraging foundation registration is asking for trouble. I mean, it’s fine if someone is honest and careful; sets goals and knows where they’re headed - that’s how we got where we are now. But there will always be someone who doesn’t know what to breed for and drags in junk and breeds junk.
 
DS - I am not asking you to encourage foundation stock. I am going to say this about foundation stock - I know what happens when you say no foundation stock. It just means that when they find the cat, they lie about it. You’d set up a system where it is more beneficial to lie than to tell the truth and anytime you put a man or a women in that position, there are very few of them that will not lie. That’s why I keep stressing the words honest pedigree. I want us to start looking at it from the standpoint of trying to get more honesty in the pedigrees by giving you the latitude to do that but when you do it, say you did it so we know what happened and what to expect from it. That, to me, is more important than whether ..... We set up these arbitrary rules - you know, "you can import Maines from Maine for foundation record". Alright, so I happen to pick up one in Arizona. I tell you I got it in Maine. How in the hell are you going to prove that I didn’t get it in Maine?! So you are putting in an artificial thing to make people lie - you can’t control it. Never make a rule you can’t control!! Because then you are making a rule that you are encouraging persons to be dishonest with.
 
BH - Wouldn’t the odds be better to get kittens of proper type from foundation stock from Maine than elsewhere?
 
DS - I would suggest that that is true. The closer you go to the original gene pool to pick up your material, the more that gene pool is going to reflect the reality of what you are looking for. Sure, you can find dribbles of silver in weins of earth in various places but if you really wanted to mine silver, you would go to a silver mine. You wouldn’t just go out and try to pan it out of sparse silver areas. So if I were looking for the stock to make up Maines, I would think that the best thing to do is go to Maine or that area. Preferably away from the larger cities. On the converse of this, if I were looking for foundation American Shorthair stock, I think I would go to South Central Texas. In fact, I happen to know somebody who happens to live in South Central Texas and that’s where she produced some of the finest American Shorthairs in the country from foundation stock!
 
RB - I was thinking of the colors in the Maines and where they originated. It seems to be predominately tabbies and particolors.
 
DS - When the early stock was brought over, let’s face it we didn’t have the colorpoint system, we didn’t have silvers. The cats that were running around Europe and were the most prevalent cats were brown tabbies. A few blues and they were odd. I can remember even when the Maltese cat - any blue cat - was sort of a special cat.
 
MH - Out in left field, where did blue cats come from anyway?
 
DS - Well, presumably from the Isle of Malta by British heritage which is why it is called Malteseing, but that’s probably not true. It’s probably that some sailor had picked up a cat and she had some kittens and one of them was blue and they were on the Isle of Malta. Some Britisher thought that that was an unusual cat and got a fancy for it and took it home and you got Maltese cats.
 
BH - Wouldn’t the tabbies, especially brown tabbies and particolors, be better from a camouflage standpoint. You know, reds will stand out like a sore thumb.
 
DS - In the native wild, yes.
 
BH - We may edit this considering the fact that we all breed brown tabbies!!
 
DS - No, I think brown tabbies probably were ..... well, the European progenitors were brown tabbies - Sylvester’s a brown tabby.
 
RB - We talked about blue Persians and that they were for some reason typier than other colors. Does color influence type at all?
 
DS - No, not per se. It’s a matter of gene pool. 1t’s kind of like taillessness. The taillessness got carried along with other tremendously advantageous things. Remember the blue Persian was the original Persian. That is, as far as the show Persian is concerned. That’s not because blue was an early color. It’s because blue was a late color and therefore it was a novelty. The novel is what we dwell on usually. What you have seen all your life you never think about making a show piece of until somebody comes along who’s never seen one of them before and they decide it’s a show piece. Then you start maybe bringing those things in the house!
 
RB - When we see a brown tabby and say it looks like a Maine Coon that’s our conception, it’s not that the brown tabbies tend to have the Maine Coon type? What I am thinking of is a lot of the old Persian brown tabbies were very close to the Maine Coon.
 
DS - SHHHHH, you said that didn’t you?
 
RB - I did say that.
 
DS - Shall we play that for the Persian breeders? I mean he might as well be in hot water, too!
 
BH - He’s doing a good job of getting himself there!
 
DS - The Persian cat in the show room ..... somebody reached down and grabbed up a hunk of genetic material. It happened to be blue because that’s what attracted their attention since it was different. They set it aside and stopped breeding it with the general population. The general population of cats that they picked that up out of didn’t have these pushed in faces and the big round eyes and the little tiny ears sitting way down on the sides of their heads and they didn’t have those tremendously bushy coats. The breeders selected for these things. They set these cats aside and removed them from the main stream of catdom. The first ones were blue. Therefore all the accumulation of genetic material that made a really typey Persian was associated with Maltese. The Maltese gene just happened to be there because it was the color that attracted their attention but then they did all the selection around it therefore it is intimately involved with it. It is not that the blue per se makes the Persian better. It’s simply that it happened to be accumulated and associated in with the glob of genetic material. Now they reach back into the pool and decide we want them to be brown tabbies or what ever. Well, when they did, the cats had the big ears, long noses, and the longer bodies .....
 
RB - They had a Maine Coon. (General laughter)
 
DS - No, the Maine Coon has taken this and gone the other way. You see, with the Maine we’ve taken the same main stream of catdom and pulled out a section and dropped it over on the coast of North America. Then nature did the same thing to the Maine Coon that little old women in London were doing to the blue Persian. Nature selected .....
 
RB - Are you saying that we have close to a natural breed of cat?
 
DS - Yes, I am saying that you have what nature selected rather than what humans selected. Now you are going to reverse the phenomenon, probably, and mess it up!
 
RB - That’s what we’d like to avoid.
 
DS - But you see the brown Persian didn’t have a Maine face. It had the native face of cats. The Maine is an extension of that selected in another way.
 
RB - In other words, in introducing the other color, they brought in the other.....
 
DS - Right, when they go dipping back into the general pool where Maines came from and they originally came from (and have now been selected away from), they bring back those traces of intermediacy.
 
MH - Back to specifics for a second, why do the Maines have the longer faces?
 
DS - I would suspect "better to snatch thee out of your hole, baby" to the mouse he says! I mean, can you imagine a flat-faced Persian trying to burrow a field mouse out of a hole! Can you imagine! If the best cat in show in the blue Persian class were left in Maine to survive next winter on the field mice that it could catch with that sawed off little face - regardless if you kept it warm and everything else and even got it up to the mouse hole once a day - I suspect that it would die.
 
MH - Can we print that?
 
RB - She will.
 
DS - Well, I don’t see why not print it.
 
RB - Well, it’s obvious to anybody that has any sense at all.
 
BH - I’ve always said I’ll take anybody’s Persian and my Maine, throw them out together and we’ll see who’s still surviving in six months.
 
DS - But let’s don’t knock the poor Persian. Pretty clever beast, too. Being short faced and bugged eyed like that, he has an aesthetic value which created a great deal of interest and he did quite well by himself. He sits in his little nook and eats nicely minced kidney while your Maine is off out there having to plow through that snow looking for the mouse hole. Which cat is the smartest?!
 
RB - Adaptation to a different environment.
 
DS - Right and intelligence is adaptation to your environment. The Persian has been very intelligent.
 
RB - What do you think of hybridization to increase gene pools and color range?
 
DS - I find nothing wrong with it if its done with controlled, honest, pedigreed breeding. When you see something you want, you go out and you deliberately dip in and get that, bring it back in and then set it in your breed. Don’t just keep messing back and forth - that’s playing, that’s backyard breeding. But when you see a color or you see a feature, a characteristic that you want and you think would be advantageous or aesthetically pleasing or beneficial in some way, then dip out, get it, move back in, and set it. But keep honest pedigrees on how you are doing it.
 
RB - Of course, a lot of associations won’t allow it anyway.
 
DS - Well then, what you can do is start changing your registration systems because you are people who are voting members of associations. Registration rules are written by people. I think, if I am not terribly mistaken, all three of you qualify. At least, you would not be disqualified in my ring as being of insufficient merit to qualify as a human. Since humans write standards and humans write registration rules, those you can change to fit more honest breeding procedures than they are now structured to do.
 
RB - Do you have any specific ideas on.....
 
DS - Oh, I’ve had a lot of them and I fight them constantly!! That’s another whole Scratch Sheet!
 
BH - Does anybody have anything else? We have gotten a little off the subject and are almost out of tape.
O.K. Thanks, Don.



© "The Scratch Sheet", Winter 1976.
Reprinted with permission.