For a Lawrence couple, Maine Coons are the "cat's meow.''
Wayne Gretzky he's not, but Tigger sure can bat a mean ice cube across Connie Pelham's kitchen floor.
While amusing to a visitor, Pelham and her husband, James, took the antics in stride. They hardly noticed the rangy cat as he repeatedly swatted the frozen cube with his huge brown paws. They had seen Tigger's game before.
It's just part of life at Jayhawkcats, their Lawrence cattery.
For the past four years the Pelhams have been been breeding, raising and selling cats like Tigger, purebred Maine Coons, from their comfortable west Lawrence home. They also have shown their cats throughout the Midwest, winning enough ribbons and awards to more than fill an area just inside their front door.
While the cat business is a sideline for the Pelhams -- James is a construction contractor and Connie a registered nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital -- their cats truly are their first love.
"When I'm cleaning all the litter boxes I sometimes wonder if it's more work than fun,'' Connie Pelham said recently as she stood in the couple's bedroom while six, 10-week-old kittens tumbled and played nearby. "Then we get to the shows. We have all the babies. They give you all the love. It's all worth it.''
The largest domestic cat, the Maine Coon originated as a breed in Maine. Their ancestors, like those of all other cats in the United States, originated in Europe and came to this country as "ratters'' on sailing ships. The breed developed its ability to survive Maine's harsh weather through natural selection.
The Maine Coon now ranks second only to the Persian in popularity, Connie Pelham said. A hundred years ago, a Maine Coon won the Best Cat award at the country's first cat show in Madison Square Garden.
Known for their size and temperament, Maine Coons are good with small children and dogs. Their most distinctive physical characteristics include large bones, muscular bodies, tufted ears, long tails and long, shaggy coats. The breed offers 30 different colors and color combinations ranging from solid brown, silver, red and blue, tabbies and calicoes, to solid colors with white markings.
"They are very unusual cats,'' Connie Pelham said, describing how some Maine Coons play in water, fetch and come when called. "They are probably the smartest breed. They are very outgoing.''
The Pelhams' technique for running a cattery out of their home is simple. The boys and the girls, as the couple calls them, are kept in different parts of the house.
The boys, including Tigger, a grand champion regional winner the couple raised, and Buddy, a grand premier that weighs in at 21 pounds, have the run of the main living area.
The girls, including Elsa, a champion and the couple's first Maine Coon, and all the kittens stay in the master bedroom.
Grand champions are unaltered cats that have defeated 200 champions at cat shows. Grand premiers are altered animals that have defeated 75 other cats. Champion cats are those that have been awarded six winners ribbons and been declared a champion or good representation of the breed by six judges, James Pelham said.
The couple shares all cat-related work, although the "kitty clinics'' that occur each Sunday the Pelhams are home are strictly in James Pelham's domain.
"Kitty clinic means toenails clipped, teeth brushed and a bath for somebody,'' James Pelham said. At many of the clinics, more than one cat will end up being blown dry after a bath in the kitchen sink.
James Pelham also combs each of the cats several times a week and plays with each of them every day.
"It's kind of like when the kids were little,'' Connie Pelham said. "He washes them and plays with them. I feed them and clean their litter box.''
Buying a Jayhawk cat isn't easy.
The couple sells breeding cats only to registered catteries. They also put breeding restrictions on those cats for the first five years they are with their new owners. Cats sold as pets must be spayed or neutered. None can be declawed.
The cats range in price from $600 to $1,500.
"We know they are going to good homes,'' Connie Pelham said, explaining that they never raise more kittens than they can place. And, she noted, many of the kittens are spoken for before they are born. "People who can't afford them aren't getting them.''
James Pelham said they keep track of their kittens through cat shows, letters and phone calls from the new owners.
"They will give you as much time as you'll give them,'' James Pelham said of the big cats. "If you want to sit and pet them they will stay there. If you get up and walk into another room, they'll be right behind you.''