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Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Papa Hemingway's Polydactyl Cats Face New Threats from Both the USDA and Their Caretakers

"I have noticed that what cats most appreciate in a human being is not the ability to produce food, which they take for granted, but his or her entertainment value."
-- Geoffrey Household

The petty, vindictive, and corrupt-as-hell USDA is threatening to seize Ernest Hemingway's world famous polydactyl cats from his erstwhile Key West home (See photos above and below) as the long-running dispute between the bureaucrats and the cats' owners continues to escalate into an all-out legal and political brawl.

On December 18th, United States District Court Judge K. Michael Moore of Miami dismissed the Hemingway Home and Museum's lawsuit against the USDA by ruling that it must first exhaust its administrative remedies before applying to the federal courts for relief. The museum, which has thirty days to appeal Moore's ruling, has not yet announced its intentions. In the meantime, the USDA will be scheduling a hearing before an administrative law judge.

While it is too early to predict the outcome of this hearing, there is a chance that the museum could lose its famous residents. "There's always a possibility of confiscation," the USDA's Darby Halladay told USA Today on December 26th. (See "The Plot Thickens for Hemingway Cats.") "The likelihood of that occurring, I can't state. But that is a remedy."

Specifically, the legal question under consideration is whether the weak-as-water Animal Welfare Act (AWA) applies to the cats and thus gives the USDA the right to regulate them. The USDA maintains that they are being exhibited to the public and as such they are therefore not any different than zoo and circus animals. The museum, as it would be expected, begs to differ.

"The act only applies to animals in commerce," Cara Higgins, an attorney for the museum, explained to The Citizen of Key West on December 20th. (See "Museum's Lawsuit to Classify Cats Dismissed.") "These cats are not being sold or distributed, they live at the museum and they die at the museum. Some of them are nineteen years old."

There are approximately forty-six cats roaming the grounds of the estate that Hemingway (See photo on the left) called home during the 1930s. About half of them are descendents of a polydactyl cat named Snowball that was given to Hemingway's sons in 1935 by a sea captain. Only the polydactyls are allowed to breed; the remainder are sterilized. (See Cat Defender post of August 3, 2006 entitled "USDA Fines Hemingway Memorial in Key West $200 a Day for 'Exhibiting' Papa's Polydactyl Cats Without a License.")

The current dispute started in 2003 when Michael Morawski and the museum's other owners committed the faux pas of inviting into their bosom a viper by the name of Debbie Schultz. As a former vice president of the Key West SPCA, she was brought on board to assist the museum in trapping and sterilizing the cats.

Unbeknownst to the museum, however, Schultz is a sterilization nut with an agenda all her own. For her, the only good cat is a sterilized one. In fact, she was so overzealous in her sterilization efforts that she has decimated the ranks of the polydactyls to the point that there are almost none of them left to propagate the bloodline.

She also harbors a particularly nasty grudge against a three-year-old tomcat named Ivan. (See photo below of him and Frances as kittens; he is the one on the left.) In fact, Schultz and her cohorts have trapped him six times outside the compound.

"I saw (sic) Ivan many times loose," Schultz told USA Today. "Ivan is a very unneutered, very macho male cat, and in each case, he had one of the street cats pinned down. We have an ordinance that says a nuisance cat can be removed."

Schultz is also so stingy that she even grouses about the fact Ivan occasionally dines at the feeding stations that she has established for her TNR colonies.

Her destructive actions toward the cats left the museum with no alternative but to give her the bum's rush. Deprived of the joy of cutting cut the testicles and ovaries of cats, this vindictive little Philistine in turn ratted out the museum to the feds.

As a consequence, inspectors from the USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service showed up in Key West in October of 2003 and rented a room at a nearby guesthouse so that they could videotape the cats' activities. Unfortunately, their diligence did not go unrewarded. At least one cat was recorded scaling a fence and leaving the property while another report cited the death of a cat named Toby underneath the wheels of a motorist after he, too, had escaped from the grounds.

To their credit, the USDA first attempted to work out a negotiated settlement with the museum by recommending that it, inter alia, enlarge the compound's six-foot-high retaining wall (See photo below) and install an electrified wire across the top of it as well as hire a night watchman.

The museum rejected any notion of tampering with the wall out of fear that doing so might endanger the museum's National Historic Place designation and that the wire might shock tourists. It is not clear what position it took regarding the hiring of a night watchman.

All totaled, the museum has failed three USDA inspections because it has refused to either cage or otherwise confine the cats. The USDA has accordingly refused to license the cats and the museum is facing fines of up to $200 a day for "exhibiting" them without the feds' seal of approval.

As is the case with most celebrated brouhahas, there is plenty of blame to go around. Although it is not known how many cats have been either killed or maimed by motorists outside the Whitehead Street museum, management is responsible at least for Toby's untimely death. If the area in and around the museum has become too dangerous for the cats to be allowed outside it is incumbent upon the museum to restrain them in some manner for their own protection.

Raising the height of the wall and perhaps stringing some chicken wire across the top of it is an idea worth considering even if it does jeopardize the property's historical status. The use of electricity in order to shock the cats into staying put would not only be cruel, but the petit fait that the USDA would suggest such a thing proves that it has no business regulating animals anywhere.

It goes without saying that the cats should not be caged under any circumstances. First of all, they are not convicts and, secondly, Hemingway House is their home. They are also friendly and do not pose any danger to visitors. (See photo below.)

The museum is also being made to pay dearly for its decision to allow Schultz to do volunteer work. Caring for animals is a lot like parenting in that everyone involved has their own ideas and prejudices. Animal rights is a particularly contentious field to begin with and there is little or no consensus amongst competing groups.

Thirdly, the museum has made another faux pas by soliciting the assistance of disgraced Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (See mug shot below.) Not only did she sponsor a slew of draconian anti-Palestinian legislation that Congress enacted last year, but she recently called for the assassination of Fidel Castro.

She initially denied that she had made the statement, but when the makers of the British documentary "Six-Hundred-Thirty-Eight Ways to Kill Castro" supplied the footage she was forced to come clean. Obviously, no halfway decent human being or organization would want to have anything to do with this poster girl for the vileness of American politics.

Despite the good work that the Hemingway Home and Museum has done over the years in continuing the polydactyls' bloodline, it is nonetheless time that some bona fide animal rights group -- if one can be found? -- undertook an investigation of the cats' health and the conditions under which they are being housed. Interested persons can also occasionally catch glimpses of them via live webcams by visiting the museum's website.

As far as the USDA is concerned, it is hardly in a position to regulate Hemingway's cats considering the complete hash that it has made of everything else under its purview. The AWA, for instance, establishes only minimal standards for food, water, and cage size. As most everyone knows, farm animals, zoo and circus animals, lab animals, and those employed in the sports and entertainment industries are treated abysmally with the USDA's consent.

Furthermore, the USDA is doing a piss-poor job of protecting the nation's food supply from, inter alia, BSE and E. coli. Even more scandalous is the fact that it oversees the annual disbursement of more than $20 billion in welfare money that goes predominantly to rich farmers. If all of that were not bad enough in itself, these programs are rife with both corruption and out-and-out thievery.

USDA warehouses are overflowing with surplus food paid for by the taxpayers while tens of millions of Americans go to bed hungry every night. For the past six-months the Washington Post has had a trio of reporters investigating corruption and malfeasance at the USDA and a series of articles on this topic can be found on its website.

In conclusion, the USDA clearly has no business going after Hemingway's cats. The welfare of the cats should be resolved at the local level through discussions involving the museum, city officials, and legitimate animal rights groups.

The polydactyls are one of the few remaining links to the time that Hemingway spent in Key West. It would be a tragedy of monumental proportions if anything were to happen to them or if they were evicted from their home. Steps should be taken to guarantee their safety and they should be allowed to continue to reproduce.

Photos: Trip Advisor (Hemingway's house, cat with man, and retaining wall), Hemingway Home and Museum (Ivan and Frances), The Atlantic (Hemingway), and Wikipedia (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen).