Monday, July 30, 2007

The Plight of Hemingway's Cats

Mention Ernest Hemingway to a cat lover and you will invariably elicit the response, "Oh, have you visited his home in Key West?"

Hemingway was not yet thirty the first time he visited Key West. He'd been living in Paris with his wife Hadley when he met Pauline Pfeiffer, who worked for Vogue. Hemingway and Pfeiffer had an affair, he divorced Hadley and shortly thereafter married Pfeiffer in 1927.

Hemingway and Pauline moved to Key West on the recommenda-
tion of the writer John Dos Passos. Hemingway fell in love with the place. The couple rented for a while and then purchased a limestone house at 907 Whitehead Street with help from Pauline's uncle. According to Wikipedia, Hemingway did some of his best work in that house, "including the final draft to A Farewell to Arms, and the short story classics 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' and 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'."

Hemingway used the house on Key West as his base of operations until 1940 when he and Pauline divorced. As in his first marriage, he'd been having an affair, this time with war correspondent Martha Gellhorn whom he married right after the divorce. Pauline claimed the house in the divorce, but he remained the owner. After her death in 1951, he rented it out. After his death, the house became a U.S. National Historic Landmark and museum.

There are various legends as to how Hemingway came to own his first polydactyl cat, Snowball. Some stories claim he brought the six-toed cat with him from Cuba. Others say he was given her as a gift in 1935. Wherever Snowball came from, the cat's descendants now populate the one-acre property in Key West. The curators of the house cum museum keep the population of cats at around fifty and say that about half of them have either six or seven toes. Most are spayed or neutered, but a couple are permitted to breed each generation to replace the elderly cats that die off.

The cats are named for actors, artists and famed literary characters.

This post is prompted by an article in Sunday's LA Times. According to the article, "the languid lifestyle of the Hemingway Home cats is threatened by proposals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they be treated like performers in a zoo or circus. The feds want the museum to obtain an animal exhibition license, which would require staff to 'protect' the felines from contact with spectators and cage them after their daily 'performance' ends when the front gate closes at 5 p.m."

The trouble started eight years ago when a woman named Debra Schultz established a feeding station for feral cats half a block away. The Hemingway cats, which had rarely left the property, began going over the fence to visit. The museum staff believe that Schultz is the person who lodged a complaint, citing the Animal Welfare Act.

The Hemingway cats were not being abused. They are visited weekly by a vet, fed organic food and spoiled by the tourists who visit the site daily.

The government's demands have ranged from wanting an electrified fence installed to prevent the cats from leaving to penning the cats in enclosures. The LA Times says, "The museum has challenged the USDA designation in district court, which has sent the case back to the parties to seek a negotiated solution."

If you'd like to sign the online petition to "Save the Hemingway Cats," go here.

1 comment:

Stephen Parrish said...

I signed it. My feeling is the cats are going to be okay, because there's too much media attention on them.