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Norwich Bulletin - 3/22/2009

Top Cat

Every year cats compete for the title of Best International Cat. The International Cat Association has an annual dinner in a different part of the world each September and the Cat of the Year is honored (as are Alters, Household Pets and Kittens). This past show season (2007-2008), the winner was a gentle giant of a cat; Supreme Grand Champion MTNest Midnight Cowboy – a solid black Maine Coon. One of the most popular breeds in the cat fancy, as well as with the general public, it wasn't easy to achieve such a goal.

Relatively new breeders, David and Judy Bernbaum had their first Maine Coon litter in 1999. Less than ten years later, they are a household name in the Maine Coon world, as well as in TICA. They are known for the health, personality and beauty of their cats, as evidenced by Cowboy. They are also known for their generosity, kindness and willingness to give advice and guidance to newcomers who fall in love with their breed.

There is a lot of mystery and legend surrounding the beginnings of the Maine Coon breed. Some feel they came from the early settlers who brought cats with them from England, that bred with bobcats. Others like to say that the Maine Coons descent from cats brought to the New World by the Vikings. But the most likely background of this breed is that they descended from native cats bred with European cats brought to this country. Strong and robust with long hair, they were best able to survive the harsh winters and serve as mousers to the settlers. Besides being a working cat, they were also the America's first show cats. Way before there were organized cat shows, farmers in the northeast held contests at the county fairs to pick the best “Coon cat of the County.”

The Maine Coon is a large cat, weighing fifteen pounds or more and taking about five years to reach full maturity. I often joke that a seven month old Maine Coon is as big as an entire litter of Abyssinians, including the mother! They are a cat that men are attracted to and, in fact, many times at shows I have heard a husband remark “now there's a real cat. I wouldn't mind having one of those,.” These are definitely big, manly, lovable cats who happen to have the tiniest little meow you have ever heard. However, their voice is the only thing small about this breed.

Maine coons seem to have a love of water, enjoying their water bowls more than most cats. They splash with their paws, chirp, dance around the bowl, and finally actually take a drink, many times using their paw to scoop the water out. They are clowns; slightly clumsy, and they can easily amuse themselves. Of course you may end up with an entire role of shredded toilet paper, but you will have happy cats! They have personality plus.

The Maine Coon is one of the largest domestic cats we have in the Cat Fancy. They have a heavy, shaggy coat with a full plume of a tail. Their head is broad and they have a visibly square muzzle and strong chin. Slightly oval eyes, large and expressive, give them that gentle, wise look.

As in all long haired breeds, dog or cat, there is grooming required if you are going to be owned by a Maine Coon. Using a metal comb to get all the way down to the skin, you want to make sure mats don't form at the base of the coat. Breeders warn to pay particular attention to the britches in the back and under the front legs. I want to make it clear that I am not a voice of experience because I do not own long haired cats. It's not because I don't think they are beautiful, its because I would not dedicate the time needed for their grooming. I firmly believe if you are going to own a long haired cat, you must be willing to spend the time needed to keep the cat in good condition. Otherwise stick to short haired cats, like me!

The Maine Coon is not without its health problems either. A seemingly robust cat, it is important that you seek out reputable breeders before buying a pedigreed kitten. Of course, that should be true of any breed of cat or dog you may be interested in. But the Maine Coons do have cases of hip dysplasia, and you should always ask if the parents have had their hips screened for this degenerative disorder. Also, Maine Coons can be prone to feline hypertrophic cadiomyopath. This debilitating disease is not solely affiliated with the Maine Coons, but in many other breeds and domestic cats. But it is still important to ask the breeder if the parents of the litter have been tested for HCM. The Winn Foundation also has a genetic test for this heart condition, which has proved very important to the breed.

For more information about these gentle giants of the Cat World, please visit www.mtnestcats.com. And come and visit Cowboy's son, MTNest Dark Side of the Moon at our April show in Ansonia, Connecticut.

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