Double pawed, polydactyl Maine Coons origins unknown, legends abound
Polydactyl Maine Coons have extra toes. Sometimes referred to as double pawed, these coons are genetically linked to Maine’s maritime life.
It’s not known whether the extra toes had any real purpose, but there are many Maine coons that exhibit the trait – so many, that cat fanciers have been lobbying to allow them to compete at juried cat shows. The vote has been thumbs down, to date.
These double pawed cats are indeed striking and every bit as stunning as the regular Maine Coon. It is believe the polydactyl Maine Coon was living in the Pine Tree State as much as 300 years ago, extending to the earliest Maine cats. It is believed the polydactyl gene became intertwined with the Maine Coon.
Normal cats have a total of 18 toes, with five toes on each front paw and four toes on each hind paw; polydactyl cats may have as many as eight digits on their front and/or hind paws. The majority of extra toes are limited to the front paws, and the majority of these cats are found on the east coast of the United States and Canada, as well South West England and Wales.
It is believed the Maine Coon evolved from possibly Norwegian Forest Cats that sailed cross the seas with their Scandinavian humans. The cats were useful aboard the ships and on the farms that were cropping up along the Maine Coast. Following the American Revolution, the state was bustling with shipyards.
Cats were common at working waterfronts for rodent control. They are still found to be living free at the working waterfront area of Portland Harbor, for example. When Kennebec cargo schooners sailed to Boston and returned to Maine, cats were on board to control rodents. But they fast developed friendships with the humans onboard.
Polydactyl cats were popular ship cats. Although there is no real concrete answer as to whether the mutation causing the extra toes came about in New England or was brought to the area from Britain, they seem to be connected with Boston. The prevalence of polydactyly among the cat population of various ports correlates with the dates when they first established trade with Boston.
It is believed that the polydactyl cat first arrived in Boston Harbor. With cargo moving freely and often between Boston and Maine, it is believed that the Boston wharf side polydactyl cats and Maine-bound schooner cats mingled as they pleased. The result was lots of kittens. Sailors valued the polydactyl cats especially for their extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities which helped control rodents at sea. Some sailors also considered them to be extremely good luck when at sea.
Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway absolutely loved polydactyl cats, after he was first given a six-toed cat by a ship’s captain. Upon Hemingway’s death in 1961, his former home in Key West, FL., became a museum and a home for his cats, and it currently houses approximately 50 descendants of his cats, about half of which are polydactyl. Hemingway Kitty Cat, or Hemingway Cat is commonly used to describe polydactyls.
The long-coated rugged bodied, Maine Coons naturally developed for survival, as a working cat that people treasured, and their adaptation to the cold winters and chilly ocean air resulted in eventual recognition as a legendary distinct breed.
The polydactyl larger paws enabled them to survive in conditions requiring them to catch their own food. Some of them always survived, and to this day, the dominant gene, polydactylism, continues to be present in a percentage of Maine Coons. It is estimated that 25 percent of early Maine coons could have been polydactyl, and perhaps more in some isolated locations.
The Maine Coon was one of the first breeds to be recognized by the late 19th-century cat fancy, and became an early favorite to cat fanciers. However, in the early 1900s, the cat fanciers abandoned the Maine Coon for more exotic Persians, Angoras, and other imports. By 1950 the breed had all but vanished.
A small group of breeders went to bat for the Maine Coon cat’s place in the cat fancier world. Breeders held Maine Coon-only cat shows and in 1968 breeders founded the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association. The associations that had snubbed the Maine Coon accepted them for Championship competition again and today the Maine Coon has regained its former popularity. It was only on May 1, 1975 when the Maine Coon was accepted for CFA provisional status, a battle that had taken a quarter of a century. Because of this long battle, the Maine Coon supporters are not going to bat for the polydactyl cats to become accepted as an official show cat by the cat fanciers.
What do you think about polydactyl cats? Have you ever owned one. My first cat, Victory, had double paws on her front paws. She was a Maine Coon mix, and a real beauty? Do you think the Cat Fancier Association should accept this new class of cat? They were part of a non-official showing at a Maine Coon Cat Show in Springvale, ME., last fall. They certainly were impressive with their big feet. Please weigh in with your thoughts and stories about these stunning kitties.