The Ernest Hemingway House and Museum in Key West, Florida, was where Hemingway wrote and lived for more than 10 years. Now about 60 cats call this place their home.
Ernest Hemingway was given a polydactyl cat and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are direct descendants of Hemingway’s original cats. About half of the cats at the museum are polydactyl. All 60 cats have names like Audrey Hepburn (pictured here), Emily Dickinson, and Spencer Tracy.
The museum pays for the cost and care of all of the cats and are fed by the caretakers of the museum. All the cats are current on their vaccinations and are spayed or neutered.
For years, there has been a legal battle over these cats and if they should be allowed to wander around the museum. In 2003, Debra Schulz, the former vice president of the local SPCA, filed a complaint with the USDA and said that the museum was violating the Animal Welfare Act.
The USDA ordered the museum to cage the cats and to reduce the number of cats. The museum refused to comply and instead installed fencing above a brick wall which enclosed the museum grounds to keep the cats in at night.
The Monroe County Commission voted against the USDA order to keep the cats caged, and the Key West Commission will vote on a proposal to allow the museum to have more than 4 cats.
More on Hemingway’s cats after the jump.
The city code says “no person may keep more than four domestic animals on any premise.” The code also allows the City Commission to provide for exceptions to the requirement “for premises upon which are kept domestic animals of historical, social or tourism significance.”
“The family of polydactyl cats that live on the property are an integral part of the history and ambiance of the Hemingway House,” the proposed resolution states. “The cats reside on the property just as the cats did in the time of Hemingway himself. They are not on exhibition in the manner of circus animals. … The City Commission finds that family of polydactyl Hemingway cats are indeed animals of historic, social and tourism significance.”
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been called to assess the situation, and members of the group support the museum’s policy of keeping the cats free range.
The USDA will be sending a cat behaviorist to assess the well-being of the museum cats later this month.