First Posted: 1/1/2013
Although the lazy felines lounging on the veranda of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Fla., may not think so, they have more in common with circus performers than with the typical house cat.
That, at least, is how the federal government sees it.
For years, the government has said the cats — said to be descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed pet Snowball — are subject to federal regulation because the museum displays them in advertisements and charges admission to tour the grounds.
A federal appeals court recently agreed with the government, ruling that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the power to regulate the cats under the Animal Welfare Act.
Museum Chief Executive Mike Morawski has his own view of the government’s position. It’s absurd, he said.
Hemingway wrote several of his masterpieces at the Key West estate in the 1930s, and the cats have been a fixture there for generations. Many tourists come not just for Hemingway but for the 45 cats, many of which have extra toes.
In 2009, the museum challenged in federal court the agency’s decision to label it an animal exhibitor.
On Dec. 7, an appeals court agreed with the USDA and a district court that the department can regulate the cats.
Morawski said the cats had always been well-tended, and a vet visits once a week.
Aside from the years-long legal wrangling, there’s another long-standing cat fight at the estate — this one regarding the felines’ ties to the cat Snowball, said to be a gift to the writer when he lived in Key West.
Papa never had six- and seven-toed cats when he lived there, Hemingway’s right-hand man, Toby Bruce, told Los Angeles Times reporter Charles Hillinger in 1972.
The museum disputes that, as do some Hemingway aficionados.
As for the cats, they’re not talking.