Hemingway Cats Should be Federally Regulated: Appeals Court

An appeals court opinion, issued Dec. 7, comes nine years after a dispute kicked off between the agency and the museum over whether the museum needs to follow federal regulations on exhibiting animals.

Saturday, Dec 22, 2012  |  Updated 5:02 PM EDT
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The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West has 45 celebrated six-toed cats. In this 2001, a cat lies in the bedroom of the Ernest Hemingway home.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture can move forward with regulating the popular six-toed cats at Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, an appeals court said.

The opinion, issued Dec. 7 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, comes nine years after a dispute kicked off between the agency and the museum over whether the museum needs to follow federal regulations on exhibiting animals, according to the New York Times

A spokesman for the Agriculture Department told the Times the agency is following the law, meaning it wants to ensure proper daily care. The agency tracks things such as toxic peeling paint or rodent infestation.

For now, the museum is unaffected by the ruling. That is because it reached a settlement with the Agriculture Department four years ago that gave the museum an exhibitors’ license as long as it extended the height of the fence, added special bowls designed to drown bugs and upgraded its cat shelters, the Times reported.

Ernest Hemingway’s house has 45 celebrated six-toed cats, and tour guides say the cats descend from Snowball, a white cat given as a gift to the Hemingways.

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Michael A. Marowski, the great-nephew of the woman who bought the Hemingway house in 1961, says the fight isn’t over. He told the Times that he is concerned the museum would be subject to changes in regulation, any one of which could upend the museum and cats.

“We are now at the whim of the agency,” said his lawyer, Cara Higgins.

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The appellate court stated the museum has “always kept, fed and provided weekly veterinary care for the Hemingway cats.”

The ruling added: “Notwithstanding our holding, we appreciate the museum’s somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration. Nevertheless, it is not the court’s role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress.”

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