The Tale of Two Maine Coons
When Timoteo, the companion of my dear old cat Ernesto, died in April 1998, I decided that I would start looking for a companion for him. In addition, I would at last have a chance to own a Maine Coon, a breed that I had always admired. Maine coons are true “Yankee cats that are descended from European breeds (e.g. the Norwegian forest cat) and American feral cats. The European cats travelled on ships to the New World, found their way ashore and mated with the locals. From then on it was the survival of the fittest in the harsh New England winters. The offspring developed a large sturdy frame, a long shaggy coat for warmth, big furry paws, fur-filled and lynx-tipped ears and a magnificent tail like that of a fox.
Feeling satisfied that I had, since 1975, done my duty by four abandoned cats and two shelter cats, I set forth to check out the annual New York cat show at Madison Square Garden. Here I saw several beautiful specimens of the breed and obtained the names of a few breeders in Manhattan. The Maine coons waiting to be judged were, indeed, an impressive sight; Grand Champion Apollo weighed 20 lbs (9 kg) and his owner was worried about a larger one of 24 lbs (10.9 kg). I doubt if I could even lift such a cat!
I finally chose, in the summer of 1998, a small cattery in Manhattan, the Olde Chelsea Cattery, run by an American lady named Elinor who raised the kittens in her apartment. She told me that the mother, Grand Champion Comet, a silver tabby, was pregnant and expecting a litter in mid-September. The father, Grand Champion Whimsey, was an adorable orange tabby with the sweetest nature. He was in a large cage when I visited since, as Elinor said, “He thinks of only two things: sex and food.” On 12 September, Comet gave birth to three kittens and I was told to return three months later, the earliest date they could be separated from their mother. I was allowed to see them before that and chose the little female, a “patch tabby”, white underneath and a brown, black and orange mixture on her back. Elinor told me she would have been “show quality” had she not had so much white in her colouring. The other two kittens were males; Elinor kept the larger one, a mackerel tabby she named Waverley, for show purposes. The third kitten was also a mackerel tabby with the sweetest face and was slightly smaller than the other two.
When “Pick-up day” arrived, the smaller mackerel tabby had grown into an adorable kitten. Elinor then made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Why don’t you take both the female and the little male? In that way, brother and sister won’t be separated, and I’ll give you a 20% reduction on the price of the male.” By that time, I had completely fallen for his dear little face and agreed. In naming them, I kept up my tradition of Spanish names in honour of my late Argentine husband Abel, choosing Sofía for the female and Humberto for the male.
I took a taxi straight over to the vet’s office in Queens, the borough of New York where I live. Here Dr. Rubio gave them a complete examination and set up a schedule for their shots. I had already had to sign an agreement promising to have them respectively neutered and spayed and never to let them out of the house. This was wise advice as the Great Outdoors is a dangerous place for cats in New York. They were both Registered Maine Coons and owning them carried its obligations! Incidentally, you can’t just go and buy a pedigree cat here, the cattery owner must consider you a responsible owner and can even come and inspect your residence if she wishes.
On arrival home, I put them in the Music Room with litter box, food bowls and cat beds, after having removed all precious knickknacks. Old Ernesto knew something was up but I kept them well separated. They proved to be excellent alarm clocks and would mew at the top of their lungs at 7 a.m. every morning.
I finally decided after about a couple of weeks that the time for an introduction to Ernesto had arrived. It turned out to be worse than I had expected. When he saw them, he howled with anguish. I felt terrible and really thought I had broken his heart. And to think they were meant to keep him company when bigger! I could not, of course, keep them forever cooped up in the little Music Room, and as they had shown that they were quite capable of coping with the stairs, gave them the run of the house. Ernesto ignored them; had he been aggressive, I would have just put them in a larger room. They grew apace and, although I say it myself, became really beautiful. Humberto is sweet and gentle, very shy with everybody and terrified of strangers; Sofía is much more sassy and afraid of no one, and oh, her tail! I have never seem a feline tail like it, and think that maybe even certain foxes might be envious. They never became “lap cats” and are only affectionate when they feel so disposed. Sofía is only overcome with affection when I am drying off after my shower. However, they usually sleep on my bed and do follow me around as I have read. Ernesto now tolerates them and receives their homage, which he no doubt considers his due (I have caught them licking his face on occasions). He is, by the way, in very good shape for his 12 years, despite diabetes, for which I give him two shots of insulin every day.
Humberto and Sofía now weigh about 13-14 lbs (5.9 kg – 6.3 kg) each, and I let them thunder down the basement stairs in front of me in the morning. Between the three of them they could quite easily knock me down in my fuzzy morning state. They are quite well-behaved; Humberto is the “thief” of the family and has to be banished to the basement when I am eating. He considers anything on a plate – or off it, for that matter – is his for the taking, be it my dinner, the others’ food or dog food. In the mornings, before being fed, they are very rumbustious and I always wear an eye protector “just in case”. They chew plastic and generally create havoc at this time. Each has a particular characteristic. Humberto adopts the typical Maine coon pose, lying with his front legs extended straight in front of him, like a lion. Sofía “hunts” and is getting louder all the time, I know she has brought me her toy mouse, I then have to thank her, make a fuss of her and soon she will have a second attack of “the mousies”.
Last year, I went to visit some friends in Buenos Aires and they all wanted me to name the two newcomers after them. I told them I had already given them names; no matter, they said, add our names on to theirs! Thus, Sofía became Sofía Ofelia and her brother, Humberto Omar. I quite liked the final result and then added “R.M.C.” after each name for extra effect. They are, after all, “Registered Maine Coons”. So it’s now “Sofía Ofelia Malvestiti, R.M.C.” – how’s that for a handle?
It is now time to feed them, as they have left their plush doughnut beds and have been sitting on the upstairs landing for some time now, silently waiting.
In September 2001, they will be three and their growth complete. For my part, I will do all I can to ensure that they live long, happy and healthy lives.
– Jose Malvestiti
New York, NY, U.S.A.