Tue, Aug 01, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Offspring of Papa's cats could wind up in court

HEMINGWAY FELINES The museum operating the writer's house may be fined because it `exhibits' the six-toed cats without having the proper license

THE GUARDIAN , MIAMI, FLORIDA

A different kind of catfight has broken out in America's southernmost town over the future of some of its most famous citizens -- dozens of six-toed felines descended from a pet belonging to the writer Ernest Hemingway.

It is thought that 46 of the unusual cats roam the grounds of the author's former home, which welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to view the house where "Papa" wrote his classic novels, including To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The US Department of Agriculture intends to fine the museum's owners up to US$200 a day for "exhibiting" the animals without a license, according to a lawsuit filed in Miami, but the trustees insist that tourists pay to see the house, of which the cats are merely residents.

"They're comparing the Hemingway house to a circus or a zoo because there are cats on the premises," said Cara Higgins, the museum's lawyer.

"This is not a travelling circus. These cats have been here for ever," she said.

About half of the Hemingway cats are polydactyl, or mitten cats, meaning they have extra toes on their front or back paws. Often named after actors, artists and philosophers, current popular residents include Archibald MacLeish, Pablo Picasso and Simone de Beauvoir.

Hemingway received a female called Snow White as a gift from a ship's captain in Key West, Florida in 1935, and its descendants have roamed freely about the house since it opened as a museum in 1964, three years after the author committed suicide.

The dispute has reached Miami's district court, where the museum wants a federal judge to rule on whether it needs a license under the Animal Welfare Act.

"We're asking the judge to let us know whether this act applies to the cats, and if so, why that is if the animals are not in commerce," Higgins said.

"If it's something to do with the number of cats, how many do we have to get rid of to be in compliance?" she asked.

Steve Trogner, a guide at the Hemingway House, said the cats were hugely popular with visitors.

"They're unique. Each one has its own character, and they're fiercely independent," he said.

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