Whereas the State Hermitage Museum’s 65 feline residents keep it relatively rodent-free, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West is in hot water with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the 44 cats — all descended from Hemingway’s own furry companion Snowball — living on the property. Earlier this month the 11th Circuit Court affirmed a USDA ruling from 2003 that reclassified the Hemingway Museum as an animal exhibitor not unlike a zoo or circus, Courthouse News reports, thereby making it subject to more stringent animal care laws.
The 2003 decision stemmed from the fact that the museum uses the cats’ images in promotional materials, and because it charges admission. Consequently the institution, which is housed in the home Hemingway occupied from 1931-38 before moving to Cuba, was ordered to keep each cat in a separate cage every night, put up a higher fence around the property, or hire additional security staff specifically to watch the cats. The museum has resisted its reclassification as an animal exhibitor.
“The museum argues that its activities are of a purely local nature because the Hemingway cats spend their entire lives at the museum — the cats are never purchased, never sold, and never travel beyond 907 Whitehead Street,” wrote Judge Joel Dubina in the court’s decision. “But the local character of an activity does not necessarily exempt it from federal regulation. And it is well-settled that, when local businesses solicit out-of-state tourists, they engage in activity affecting interstate commerce.”
The 44 cats, most of whom are either spayed or neutered, and all of which receive regular veterinary attention, are predominantly polydactyl, like Snowball, meaning they have more than the normal number of toes for a cat, 18. Hemingway’s well-publicized affection for his extra-toed cat means that polydactyl felines are often referred to as Hemingway cats.
“We appreciate the museum’s somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration,” Dubina added in the decision. “Nevertheless, it is not the court’s role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress.”
— Benjamin Sutton
(Image: A descendant of Snowball named Hairy Truman; Courtesy the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.)