The controversy over the polydactyl cats that reside at the Hemingway House and Museum continues.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing that these beloved Hemingway cats be treated like performers in a zoo or circus. The agency wants the museum to obtain an animal exhibition license. This would require staff to “protect” the cats from being in contact with the “spectators”, and the cats would be cages after their “daily performance” ends when the museum closes at 5pm.
A spokesperson for the USDA said the agency was not insisting on individual cages for the cats. The agency recommends that “enclosures be set up so other animals can’t enter and the cats can’t get into the street.”
The spokesperson also said that she couldn’t comment on specific changes proposed at the museum because the case has become a legal matter. The museum has challenged the USDA designation in district court, which has sent the case back to the parties to seek a negotiated solution.
From LA Times:
“Our cats do not do tricks. They don’t do flips and jump through hoops. They’re our pets!” said Jacque Sands, manager and 14-year veteran at the museum, where the cats can curl up in kitty condos scattered through the gardens. “They own us. We don’t own them.”
There are now Web-based petitions to Save the Hemingway Cats, and the Key West City Commission has exempted the museum from a city law prohibiting more than four domestic pets per household. The commission pronounced the cats “an integral part of the history and ambiance of the Hemingway house,” which draws 300,000 visitors each year.
Tourists oppose the government moves to restrict the free-ranging felines, whose names and haughty deportment evoke images of an era when the two-legged Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy and Rita Hayworth mingled with literary legends like Hemingway, MacLeish and Simone de Beauvoir.
“I don’t think that’s right at all!” Charlene Walters of Greenville, Ohio, said of the USDA demands as she tried to entice a calico reclining at poolside.
“Hemingway had them this way â€” they’re not hurting anybody,” said Robert Cole of Knoxville, Tenn., as he and his wife, Rachel, rested on a wrought-iron bench with Jake Barnes stretched out in the shade below them.
After nearly four years of legal wrangling, the case of the exhibited but nonperforming cats may be heading toward compromise.
The USDA postponed a July administrative hearing to allow an animal behaviorist from the University of Florida, Terry Curtis, to render an independent assessment of how confinement would affect the cats’ mental and physical health. Her report is expected in two to three weeks.