Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Real Cat Fight

Hemingway cat caretakers fight with USDA

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum disputes the USDA's claim that it is an "exhibitor" of cats and needs to have a USDA Animal Welfare License, according to a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Miami.

"What they're comparing the Hemingway house to is a circus or a zoo because there are cats on the premises," Cara Higgins, the home's attorney, said Friday. "This is not a traveling circus. These cats have been on the premises forever."
Must be that Hemingway was a liberal, I guess. Why else would now, after fifty years, the USDA suddenly take up paws against these cats?

Now, I've been to Hemingway Home. It's a marvelous and inspiring place. You can feel Hemingway's lusts and vibrancy as you walk through the narrow corridors. Climbing the steps to his studio is humbling, and you are in awe of seeing the place where "A Farewell To Arms," among other classics, was typed.

The tour guides are this very eclectic mix of former homeless people, frustrated writers, and Hemingway scholars, and any stop to Key West would be incomplete, at least for an aspiring writer, without a stop at this historic landmark.

And of course, the cats. Roughly half the cats at the Home are polydactyl, meaning they have six toes instead of five. Yup. It looks as weird as it sounds. Hemingway was given one of the original "polys" by a ship's captain he met in a bar on Key West, and some of his progeny still roam the grounds. Not all the cats are neutered or spayed, but because the food is free and there's a modest fence keeping them in, they tend to stay on the grounds. Most are named after people Hemingway knew, like Charlie Chaplin above, except some of the latest kittens are named after other things in Hemingway's life, like characters from stories, or events in Key West, like Frances and Ivan on the right, named after the hurricanes.

Proceeds from the sale of cat souvenirs is earmarked for local animal shelters.

So one has to wonder why the USDA is involved?
Agency inspectors who have repeatedly visited the property since October 2003 have never indicated any concerns about the welfare of the cats. But they have said a 6-foot-high, brick-and-mortar fence Hemingway built around the property in 1937 did not sufficiently contain the 53 cats, which should be caged, according to the complaint.

Caging the cats, some of which are 19 years old or older, would traumatize them, and the home's designation as a National Historic Site prohibits extending the height of the fence, the complaint said.

The tourist site complies with city and county ordinances, Higgins said. "We don't know why the USDA got involved in this," she said.
You know, these guys have relaxed the rules on meat production, dairy production, they've downgraded the definition of organic foods...and with all that extra work piling up, they have time to harass a few cats???

UPDATE: OK, so since so many of you bugged me that this wasn't a real cat

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