A. J. Alexander’s Writing Assistant #1

In an earlier blog post, I did introduce my three ‘writing assistants’ to all of you.

Today I’d like to tell you how I got my ‘baby boy’.

**************

I admit, for a long time I daydream about Maine Coon cats. To me, this particular cat breed owns the perfect combination of characteristics I find irresistible in a cat. And additionally, Maine Coons can grow huge, which I just love. Let me introduce you to the typical Maine Coon breed:

History
The Maine Coon, as the name implies, hails from Maine, where the breed was known as a popular mouser, farm cat, and ship’s cat, as far back as the early 19th century. They’re a natural breed and little is known of their origins. Some say the Vikings brought them to North America, centuries before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Others say that they’re the descendants of longhaired cats belonging to Marie Antoinette, sent to America in advance of the doomed queen, who had hoped to escape there. Sea captains may have brought back longhaired cats that then mated with local shorthaired cats. One thing is for sure–the Maine Coon is not the result of a mating between a cat and a raccoon, even if their brown tabby coat and furry ringed tail suggest that biological impossibility. The resemblance is, however, how the cats got the “Coon” part of their name. In fact, Maine Coons who didn’t have the brown tabby coat were called Maine Shags.
The first published reference to a Maine Coon comes from 1861 and was about a black-and-white cat named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines. A female Maine Coon was named Best Cat in 1895 at a cat show held in Madison Square Garden. In Boston and New York, the home-grown felines were popular exhibits at cat shows, and when the Cat Fanciers Association was formed in 1908, the fifth cat registered was a Maine Coon named Molly Bond. But the invasion of glamourous Persian and exotic Siamese cats from England around the turn of the century spelled the end of the Maine Coon’s popularity for about five decades. Things took a turn for the better in the 1960s, and the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association was formed in 1968. Today these big, beautiful cats are among the world’s most popular breeds. But what really counts, of course, is that they are the official state cat of Maine.

Size
This is a large cat. Most Maine Coons weigh 9 to 18 pounds–males are larger–and some tip the scales at 20 or more pounds. They don’t reach their full size until they are three to five years old.

Personality
The good-natured and affable Maine Coon adapts well to many lifestyles and personalities. They like being with people and have the habit of following them around, but they aren’t needy. They’re happy to receive attention when you direct it their way, but if you’re busy, they’re satisfied to just supervise your doings. Close a door on them and they will wait patiently for you to realize the error of your ways and let them in. They’re not typically a lap cat, but they do like to be near you.
They also retain their skill as a mouser. No rodents will be safe in a home where a Maine Coon resides. Even if you don’t have any mice for them to chase, they’ll keep their skills sharp by chasing toys and grabbing them with their big paws. A Maine Coon also enjoys playing fetch and will retrieve small balls, toys, or wadded-up pieces of paper. They can climb as well as any cat but usually prefer to stay on ground level. That’s where their work is, after all. They’re also very smart and will happily learn tricks or play with puzzle toys that challenge their brain.
Maine Coons usually enjoy a kittenish love of play well into adulthood. Males, especially, are prone to silly behavior. Females are more dignified, but they aren’t above a good game of chase. Not especially vocal, they make any requests in a soft chirp or trill.

Health
Both pedigreed cats and mixed-breed cats have varying incidences of health problems that may be genetic in nature. Problems that may affect the Maine Coon include the following:
Hip dysplasia, which in severe cases can cause lameness.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease that is inherited in Maine Coons. A DNA-based test is available to identify cats that carry one of the mutations that causes the disease.
Polycystic kidney disease, a slowly progressive heritable kidney disease that can result in renal failure.
Spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs. A test is available to identify carriers and affected kittens.

Care
Despite the length of the Maine Coon’s coat, it has a silky texture that doesn’t mat easily—if you groom it regularly. It is easily cared for with twice weekly combing to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. Useful grooming tools include a stainless steel comb for removing tangles and what’s called a “grooming rake” to pull out dead undercoat, which is what causes tangles when it’s not removed. Use it gently, especially in the stomach area and on the tail. Maine Coons are patient, but they don’t like having their hair pulled any more than you do. Check the tail for bits of poop stuck to the fur and clean it off with a baby wipe. Bathe a Maine Coon as needed, which can range from every few weeks to every few months. If their coat feels greasy or their fur looks stringy, they need a bath.
Brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease. Daily dental hygiene is best, but weekly brushing is better than nothing. Trim the nails every couple of weeks. Wipe the corners of the eyes with a soft, damp cloth to remove any discharge. Use a separate area of the cloth for each eye so you don’t run the risk of spreading any infection. Check the ears weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball or soft damp cloth moistened with a 50-50 mixture of cider vinegar and warm water. Avoid using cotton swabs, which can damage the interior of the ear.
Keep the Maine Coon’s litter box spotlessly clean. Cats are very particular about bathroom hygiene, and a clean litter box will help to keep the coat clean as well.
It’s a good idea to keep a Maine Coon as an indoor-only cat to protect them from diseases spread by other cats, attacks by dogs or coyotes, and the other dangers that face cats who go outdoors, such as being hit by a car. Maine Coons who go outdoors also run the risk of being stolen by someone who would like to have such a beautiful cat without paying for it.

Coat Color And Grooming
A Maine Coon is a big, rugged cat with a smooth, shaggy coat who looks as if they could put in a full day mousing on a farm in all weather conditions. Indeed, they were built for just such work in the harsh Maine climate, and their breed standard reflects their heritage, calling for a medium-size to large cat with a well-proportioned body that is muscular and broad-chested. A Maine Coon has substantial, medium-length legs and large, round paws, well tufted with fur, to serve as “snowshoes” during winter.
A heavy coat is shorter on the shoulders, longer on the stomach and britches (long fur on the upper hind legs), with a ruff in front and a long, furry tail waving a greeting. A medium-width head is slightly longer than it is wide and has a squarish muzzle. Large, well-tufted ears are wide at the base, tapering to a point, and large, expressive eyes are green, gold, greenish-gold or copper. White or bi-colored Maine Coons may have blue or odd eyes.
The brown tabby pattern is so common in this breed that many people don’t know Maine Coons can come in any other colors or patterns. They might be surprised to learn that Maine Coons are found in solid colors that include black, red or white, all tabby colors and patterns, bi-color such as blue and white or red and white, and patterns such as tortoiseshell and calico. (Source: https://cattime.com/cat-breeds/maine-coon-cats#/slide/1)

**************

Years ago I had a little black Persian cat which I rescued. Back then I had to get a second cat since it’s a bad thing to hold one single indoor cat. I looked around and then was told by a friend that she heard about a Maine Coon cat, directly from a breeder. But she doesn’t know why the young cat was given away.

I looked at the picture and thought it was quite cute. I called the breeder and we made an appointment. A couple weeks later I had a look at the young male.

We bonded instantly. I asked the breeder why she wants to ‘retire’ him from breeding at not even 18 months. He wasn’t even a ‘legal cat adult’. She explained to me that this young tomcat did not do ‘his job’. Instead, he was more interested in playing. Now, a young cat in heat wants a tomcat to do what nature dictates him to do… When he didn’t obey, they started attacking, biting and scratching him badly… they even bullied him, didn’t let him sleep and it got so bad, that the breeder had to separate him from the group. For that cat, this was a horrible punishment. He loves being in the company of other cats and humans and living locked away in a room was horrible to him. I was told he has a rare color. He’s a so-called ‘Golden Tabby’ with white. His color is rare and cannot be ‘produced’. It’s a genetic ‘accident’. It’s not very important to me. I actually fell in love with the mischievous sparkle in his eyes and his way of holding on to me when I carry him around.

The breeder entrusted him to me and I took him in and had him neutered. He loved playing with his Persian cat friend, even though he was double her size.

I loved his antics and still do to this day. When I got him, he was 18 months old. Male Maine Coon cats grow up to 4 1/2 years and he used every day of that. He grew into a beautiful tomcat. (And yes, officially he’s just a cat). But to me, he is ‘my boy’, and even now, being 11 years old, he still loves to play like a kitten. He is a very soft and careful cat! When the little Persian cat, his buddy, got very ill, she couldn’t clean herself anymore, and he helped her!

He played with three more cats since the Persian and has never injured even one of them.

When I had to euthanize his little Persian friend, he was angry about me and ignored me for quite some time, occasionally he bit me. And he was so depressed he had his tail hanging down. Maine Coons are very proud of their bushy long-haired tail and generally carry it high.

He calmed down a bit during the past couple of years. But there are days he’s completely falling back into his ‘teenager’ years.

And occasionally he sleeps rolled up on my desk or behind me in the office, and his purring helps me write.

This strong, big, mild and wonderful cat has captured my heart and is with me now for nearly 10 years.

He’s funny, sometimes a bit clumsy, curious and caring, playful and occasionally sleepy. There are moments he looks ‘regal’, like a wild tiger, proud and free… at other times he looks just cute. But no matter how he looks. He’s a great cat.