Monday, April 18, 2011

Sassy - Ten Years Later

Ten years ago today, my first Maine Coon cat, Sassy, was born.  Little did any of us know how things would progress from my beginning as a Maine Coon breeder acquiring her future breeding queen.  I blogged last month about Sassy's buddy, our dog Chardonnay, on her tenth birthday.  I figure it's only fair that I give Sassy the same treatment.

Back then, we had two domestic short haired cats, Creole and Remy.  Since adulthood, I'd held to the ideal of having two cats, no more, no less.  Hard to believe that now.  Being about 6 years apart, Remy and Creole didn't get along very well.  Remy is and was a very outgoing, loving cat, but I missed having two cats that were buddies.  Creole was more opinionated and in her opinion, Remy was a brat (Creole died a few years ago from kidney disease, but Remy is still doing well).  I thought it would be a good idea to get a kitten while Remy was still young enough to accept it.  Once cats get to a certain age, change becomes more difficult for them.  Remy was two-years-old then.  Remembering my Maine Coon Wannabee, Felicity, from my college days, I decided that if I were going to get Remy a buddy, I wanted to get what I always wanted....a Maine Coon.

Remy and kittens observe the chickens through the glass
Most breeders didn't have websites back then and we had dial up access, so I called veterinarians to try to find a breeder to talk to.  Then I found out the price....holy crap!  And what nerve the breeders had to ask me to pay $500 and then sign an agreement to not breed the cat!  Not that I necessarily wanted to breed, but still.  I finally found a breeder who was easy to talk to, Patty in Litchfield, CT.  Her kittens were also expensive, but by now I had done considerably more research and was playing with the idea of becoming a breeder.  She initially told me that I would have to get a mentor, show, learn pedigrees, health issues, kitten deaths, pay more for a kitten with breeding rights, etc.  I said I didn't want a male cat and she explained how difficult it would be to find another breeder willing to let me use their stud unless people knew me.  Basically, Patty tried to discourage me from breeding, but she didn't say no.  Most breeders refuse to sell kittens with breeding rights to someone they don't know (I would now), but there are others who are less strict and will frankly sell breeding rights to anyone willing to pay.  By the way, yes, you can breed your cat without having the breeding rights, but the cat registries like CFA and TICA will not honor the resulting kittens with registration papers.  You would be stuck with trying to place your kittens as purebred, but with no documentation to prove it.....another reason why I do early spay/neuter with the kittens I sell as pets. 

Well, it's obvious what happened.  I brought Sassy home in June, complete with breeding rights.  My beautiful kitten and future of my cattery.  As a cat, Sassy has not had the same opportunities her canine friend has had to travel with the family and have outdoor adventures.  Given Sassy's general dislike for riding in motor vehicles, she's okay with that.  When Sassy first came home to us, Chardonnay had already been there for about a month.   When comparing a two-month-old puppy to a similar-aged kitten, the felines win paws down for maturity and intelligence.  Sassy didn't whine when left alone, didn't take several months to housebreak, didn't destroy household objects with her teeth, didn't eat inedible things (with the exception of the ribbon incident)...Sassy was a perfect pet.
Baby Sassy - 4 months

Although Remy was the initial excuse to get Sassy (she needed a friend, remember?), it didn't work out that way.  When Remy first saw little Sassy, she knocked things over trying to attack the intruding kitten (I didn't know back then about gradual introductions).  Later they did become friends, but the friendship faded when Sassy changed her priorities to motherhood.  Remy didn't understand or appreciate kittens who love to pretend her wagging tail is a snake, but she has come to accept the little brats over the years.

When Sassy was four-months-old, she and I went to our first cat show in nearby Groton.  There I met the breeder of Sassy's sire, Merry Braun, who became a valuable resource with her experience.  I learned to ask a lot of questions in my effort to become a knowledgeable, responsible Maine Coon breeder.  I remembered what I had read somewhere years ago that one should only endeavor to breed animals if the goal is to improve the breed.  Creating little creatures by accident or putting two animals together with known health issues is irresponsible and a disservice to the breed. 

I knew so little but got so lucky with Sassy. Most new breeders get stuck with a poor example of the breed, learn from their mistakes, and have to reinvest to get the right combination of health, type and personality. I got all that with Sassy, but didn't realize it until later when we started showing in ernest and had seasoned breeders and judges telling me what a nice cat she was.  Type-wise, Sassy's ear set is too wide and it took a while for her chin to square up, but her size, pattern, color and expression over rode her imperfections.  Sassy did well showing in CFA and became a Grand Champion after only 3 shows. I didn't discover how exceptional that was for any cat, much less a female Maine Coon, until I met exhibitors who had been trying to Grand their cat for most of a year.
Sassy - 8-months-old

Sassy became fast friends with Chardonnay. This friendship came in handy as Sassy matured and I anxiously waited for her to come into heat for the first time. Sassy and her female descendants are not horrifically vocal when cycling, and they start pretty late, at around 11 months old. This is a real blessing since the general rule with cats is to wait until the queen is at least a year old and has cycled three times before breeding her. When a kitten starts cycling at 5 months (and it happens, especially with other breeds), it puts the kitten at risk of a getting a uterine infection if the breeder holds off on breeding her for seven months. On the other hand, no one wants their kitten to become a mother at only 7-months-old. I learned the best way to determine if Sassy was indeed in heat was to let Chardonnay test her. Our dog thought it was great fun if Sassy allowed her to chew on her neck, not understanding what Sassy really wanted. If Sassy went into lordosis position when Chardonnay made the moves on her, we knew...yep, she was in heat.

Sassy in heat with Chardonnay.  They were both just over a year old here.
Looking back over my records, Sassy has had seven litters, 18 kittens total.  Sassy is the reason I never had problems with kitten mortality the first three years I was breeding.  She and her daughters, Ginger, Boom Boom and Crystal, started me out on the right foot.  She usually had small litters of huge kittens and mostly girls. Sassy had ten kittens before she had her first boy and he was also her largest, weighing 6.1 oz at birth, reaching 15 pounds at 8 months. Murray went to become the 2nd Best Maine Coon in CFA in 2005-06.  Murray's sire is Bugger whom I got from another breeder.  Bugger's breeder loved to take credit for Murray's success, but I disagree.  Bugger is incredibly handsome, but Murray got his good looks from Mom.

GC RW Dracoonfly Same Thing Murray at 5 years - Sassy's Number One Son
Sassy was my first queen to earn the title of Distinguished Merit for producing five Grand Champions in CFA. If you look back through the pictures on my website, you can see Sassy's exquisite expression in most of her descendants. Her look carries on in her granddaughters and great-granddaughters who continue to produce kittens.

Cassie- Sassy's great-granddaughter

Myra - Sassy's granddaughter
Sassy has not been perfect.  She has had "pissues" for most of her life.  I had hoped that when she was spayed and retired from breeding, this behavior would stop but it hasn't.  I'm sure that if I had placed her in a different home, her pissues would cease.  They always do in such cases when a cat leaves the place where the habit has formed.  She also has mild Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a condition where she doesn't seem to know she has to poop until it happens.  This does seem to have greatly improved on the Young Again Cat Food we're using now. 

I made a mistake by keeping Sassy after she retired from breeding.  I felt obligated to her as my first, almost like I would be betraying her trust in me if I sent her away.  In retrospect, she would have been happier if she didn't have to live with so many other cats.  She loves people and Chardonnay, just not some of my cats who irritate her.  She's too old to try to place now, but I have since promised myself that all future retiring queens will be placed into other homes.  Still beautiful, Sassy does seem to enjoy being a grandmother to the kittens that come and go. Her place is the island counter top in our kitchen. The other cats have learned that if they invade Sassy's space on the counter, they'd better be young and cute, otherwise they are quickly corrected by the Queen. 

Happy tenth birthday Sassy!

Sassy at 10 years
Not looking too shabby for a great-great grandmother


  1. She's too old to try to place now, but I have since promised myself that all future retiring queens will be placed into other homes.

    If only everyone had this practice. They have had such trouble with that in England and in the Netherlands. Oh wait! You're talking about cats. Sorry!

  2. You were so fortunate as you got started with the litters and their health. Solo and Cahill wish their mom a happy belated birthday!