The six-toed felines, genetic mutations descended from an animal gifted to Ernest Hemingway by a sea captain, now roam the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida. The museum hosts about 50 cats, about half of which have a superfluous toe.
But all is not well for these unusual cats. The United States Department of Agriculture, in all their bureacratic munificence, claims the museum is an 'exhibitor' (read: zoo), and that the Hemingway cats must be caged.
Salvation arrived last week when the Key West City Commission exempted the museum from a bylaw that limits each household to four domestic animals. Said the commission:
"The cats reside on the property just as [they] did in the time of Hemingway himself. They are not on exhibition in the manner of circus animals. The city commission finds that the family of polydactyl Hemingway cats are indeed animals of historic, social and tourism significance ... an integral part of the history and ambiance of the Hemingway House".
By elevating the cats to the status of residents, the commission has undercut the USDA. Residents can't be put in cages. Or at least not yet.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, USDA. It tolls for thee.