Thereby hangs a tail

Saving energy is now the big cry, but there has been no great agitation to extend the short-tailed cat. Here in Maine, the Manx cat has never had the popularity of the Maine coon cat, but he averages a couple of cords a wood in any normal winter, and proves conclusively that handsome is as handsome does. You consider the length of time it takes a long-tailed cat to pass through a door, multiply that by the ins and outs, and again by the chill factor, and you will readily see that the feline equivalent of highway M.P.G. is exorbitant. We've always known that; the incidence of crooked tails among the Maine coon cats is often thought by tourists to be congenital. It is not. That's because the cat's inherent independence caused it to dilly-dally en passantm and the door closed too soon against the rigors of a Maine winter.

There is an interesting cat history in Maine, perhaps a parallel to the Dick Whittington story -- the ancient one of a cat helping his master to a fortune because of his mousing talent. Back when just about everybody in Maine was at sea, the cats of the world came home. Not only was a cat taken aboard when needed as a ship's mouser, wherever the vessel was at the time, but odd and interesting kinds were carried back as presents to the stay-at- homes. About every sea captain's wife and daughter had a new and different pussycat every second or third year. Such is the nature of the beast that Maine soon became well stocked with about anything one's heart might desire, and such is the nature of cat reproduction that the kinds repeated. There is some conjecture about just what happened to bring into being the particularly handsome "Maine Coon Cat," but a good guess is an influence on the Persian. Probably the coon cat should be classed as a "common," but plenty of people think him special. Tourists like to carry one home, and are often surprised that Mainers are glad to give one away, instead of haggling for a good price on such a beautiful animal. But the Maine coon cat has a long tail.

True, after his first winter's experience with household doors, a coon cat learns to carry his tail in the upright manner, which lessens his score for dressage, but saves on fuel. But the least forgetfulness on his part is catastrophic, as prudent Mainers with their minds on the woodpile seldom trouble to look at the way a cat holds his tail. A coon cat of two-three winters' experience knows how to pass a door so he brakes snow across the dooryard. It has always been even so.

Lon Perkins had a coon cat that he called "Fifteen-two-fifteen-four." Lon was a great cribbage player, and whenever anybody dropped in there was immediately a game by the kitchen range. Cozy enough, and let the wind howl without. So as Lon was playing cribbage, the cat would want out, and Lon would open and close the door while the cat passed, and Lon would keep right on counting and pegging without the slightest pause. There was an energy-saving cat!

The Manx cat came to Maine in the same way. (Incidentally, the world's breeds of barnyard poultry were brought home to Maine by sea captains, too -- not only as oddities, but to provide fresh eggs and even protein at sea.) There has always been the mistaken presumption in Maine that a Manx is a "cross" between a household cat and our snowshoe rabbit -- the variable hare. This, because of the high rear haunches of the Manx, not unlike the jumping gear of the hare. The match is genetically impossible, but a better reason for doubting the matter is the hunting ability of the Manx, which has accounted for many an unlucky rabbit. We had a beautiful lady Manx for years, and she not only brought home rabbits, but several times won fights with weasels. Not every cat will win that one, and on the farm a weasel in a poultry house is disaster. Stubby, a true Manx, had only a tuft where a coon cat has a plumed tail, and without regard for her varmint talents she was never known to cool down a kitchen.

Accordingly, the minority status of the Manx cat, in a nation of long tails, is something the National Energy Commission should relate to our shortages. The length of time taken by American cats to pass a given threshold, which is the length of time a door is open against the elements, can be readily related to Btu. At these prices, the United States of America cannot afford to keep long-tailed cats. Let's hear it for the Manx!

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