.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ernest Hemingway's Beloved Cats Made It Through the Rain, Wind, and Destruction that Hurricane Irma Brought With Her and Are Still Very Much Alive and Well in Key West

Ernest Hemingway's Old Abode Has Stood the Test of Time

"The cats seemed to be more aware sooner of the storm coming in, and in fact when we started to round up the cats to take them inside, some of them actually ran inside, knowing it was time to take shelter. Sometimes I think they're smarter than the human beings."
-- Dave Gonzales

When Hurricane Irma roared through Key West during the early morning hours of Sunday, September 10th she brought with her two-hundred-nine kilometer winds and drenching rain. As a consequence, a good part of the world famous resort was either heavily damaged or flooded.

At 907 Whitehead Street, however, the intrepid feline residents of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and their ten caretakers were not only dry but, best of all, safe and sound. In electing to attempt and ride out the category four storm, staffers at the museum openly defied a dire warning issued earlier by none other than the great novelist's granddaughter, actress Mariel Hemingway.

"I think you're wonderful and an admirable person for trying to stay there and save the cats and the house," she told the museum's seventy-two-year-old general manager, Jacqui Sands, via The Mercury News of San Jose on September 8th. (See "Mariel Hemingway to Manager at Ernest Hemingway's Key West Home: Take the Cats and Go!") "This is frightening. This hurricane is a big deal. Get in the car with the cats and take off."

Although sans doute well intended, that bit of unsolicited advice was hardly practical given that the museum is home to fifty-four cats, many of whom are polydactyls. Evacuating them therefore would have required a corresponding number of cages and at least eight to ten passenger cars.

Besides, by that time U.S. 1, the only road in and out of the Keys, was already clogged with evacuees and petrol was in short supply. Greyhound, even if it was still operating, does not allow cats on its motor coaches and there is not any train service in the Florida Keys.

Even some staffers of the museum were forced into remaining behind because they either did not have cars of their own or were unable to get seats on flights out of Key West International Airport. As catastrophic storms such as Katrina, Irene, Sandy, and Harvey have more than abundantly demonstrated, the United States has become so crowded that individuals who wish to flee them must make up their minds to do so almost immediately upon learning of them or otherwise hunker down and do the best that they can in order to survive.

All things considered, what the staffers decided to do was actually the wisest course of action that they could have taken not only for the sake of the cats but themselves as well. In particular, by remaining behind they were able to take full advantage of the museum's elevation at sixteen feet above sea level, the highest point on the island, and its impregnable construction.

Grace Kelly Calls the Roll of Her Fellow Felines

"I have been watching the news, and people keep talking about how low-lying the Keys are. We are not in the flood zone," the museum's curator, Dave Gonzales, afterwards pointed out to The Washington Post on September 11th. (See "Hemingway's Six-Toed Cats Survive Irma, Still Have Nine Lives.") "This is an eighteen-inch block-limestone building that has been here since 1851 and is still standing."

It therefore is safe to conclude that the old mansion has weathered quite a few hurricanes over the years. The historical record is not easily unearthed but on September 10, 1960 Hurricane Donna made landfall near Marathon, eighty-one kilometers north of Key West, where it killed one individual and injured seventy-one others. The storm also demolished five-hundred-sixty-four houses and damaged another one-thousand-three-hundred-eighty-two of them.

More recently, Hurricane Georges came shore as a category two storm in September of 1998 and Wilma roared through town on October 24, 2005. Staffers at the museum therefore knew not only what to expect but how to prepare for it.

"I think we are going to be fine," Sands confidently predicted to The Mercury News.

There also is an awful lot of truth in Gonzales' observation that houses, commercial enterprises, and public buildings constructed in the nineteenth century and the early part of the succeeding one were intended to endure throughout the ages. The fact that they even were built in the first place is all the more remarkable given that the limestone and other minerals that their construction required had to be not only mined but transported long distances as well. Plus, just about all of the actual work was done, not by heavy equipment and modern machines, but rather manually.

Most of them have long since succumbed to the wrecking ball and as a consequence there are not all that many of them left standing, but that does not alter the fact that old, decrepit-looking hotels and other properties that were constructed out of bricks, mortar, and other durable materials are often still far safer than their contemporary rivals which, in most cases, have been built using synthetic and highly inflammable materials. Old buildings therefore cannot be blown down by hurricanes and any conflagrations that erupt are easily contained at their points of origin. (See Cat Defender post of July 3, 2017 entitled "Paucho Somehow Made It Out Alive of Grenfell Tower but the Fate of the Dozens of Other Cats That Resided at the High-Rise Firetrap Remains Shrouded in Secrecy.")

"This isn't our first hurricane," Gonzales defiantly added to The Mercury News. "We're here to stay."

The Museum's Dedicated Staffers

None of his reassurances, however, impressed Hemingway in the least. "It's just a house," she retorted to The Mercury News. "None of us likes to lose things we treasure (but) ultimately you've got to protect your life."

In spite of Gonzales' and Sands' public bravado, once push finally came to shove they were not quite willing to completely entrust their hides to either limestone or the museum's stellar track record. On September 7th they accordingly had the Reverend John C. Baker of the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea at 1010 Windsor Lane to come by and bless the cats, staff, and house itself.

"We answer to a higher authority and we feel very confident the outcome for us is going to be very good," Gonzales predicted to The Washington Post.

That was good thinking on his part because it never hurts to try and appease the gods. Besides, Baker likely gave the museum a generous discount considering the circumstances.

So, after stocking up on food, water, and medicine, all that remained for staffers to do was to bring the cats inside and that proved to be a far easier task than initially expected. It also disproved the age-old notion that cats cannot be herded.

"The cats seemed to be more aware sooner of the storm coming in, and in fact when we started to round up the cats to take them inside, some of them actually ran inside, knowing it was time to take shelter," Gonzales later told the Los Angeles Times on September 11th. (See "Hemingway House and Cats Spared by Hurricane Irma.") "Sometimes I think they're smarter than the human beings."

In some ways they actually are superior beings and that is especially the case when it comes to their sense of smell. In particular, they can smell a rainstorm approaching long before their human counterparts have so much as an inkling as to what is about to occur.

An Anti-Looting Sign on Duval Street

Their excellent sense of hearing likewise allows them to detect thunder and great gusts of wind long before the sound of either reaches their owners' ears. That particular ability of theirs can be a bit uncanny, however, in that the very same cat who is capable of hearing the lid being pried off of a can of tuna from as far away as a block also can be as deaf as an adder to the entreaties of an owner sitting only a few feet across the room.

They also are capable of picking up on rumblings underground that presage the arrival of earthquakes and they can sense abrupt changes in the atmospheric pressure. (See www.pethelpful.com, April 2, 2017, "Can Your Cat Predict the Weather?")

Not surprisingly, they usually are the first members of any household to detect conflagrations and gas leaks. (See Cat Defender posts of October 31, 2007, November 30, 2007, and April 23, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Bacon Shows His Appreciation and Love for His Rescuer by Awakening Her from a Burning Apartment," "Cuddles Saves a Saskatchewan Family from a Blaze in a Faulty Fireplace That Destroys Their Home," and "Winnie Saves an Indiana Family of Three from Dying of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.")

In more recent times, cats have proven themselves to be adept at detecting the presence of diseases such as cancer. (See Cat Defender posts of April 11, 2009, March 27, 2010, and April 20, 2012 entitled, respectively, "Tiger Saves His Owner's Life by Alerting Him to a Cancerous Growth on His Left Lung," "Taken In Off the Street by a Compassionate Woman, Sumo Returns the Favor by Alerting Her to a Cancerous Growth on Her Bosom," and "Grateful for Being Provided with a Loving Home, Fidge in Turn Saves Her Mistress's Life by Alerting Her to a Malignant Growth on Her Breast.")

They additionally have demonstrated themselves to be capable of anticipating both emphysema attacks and diabetic seizures. (See Cat Defender posts of April 18, 2009, May 18, 2009, and April 21, 2012 entitled, respectively, "Blackie Stays Up Nights Monitoring His Guardian's Breathing for Emphysema Attacks," "Elijah Teaches Himself How to Detect Low Blood Sugar Levels in His Guardians and Others," and "Adopted from a Shelter Only Hours Previously, Pudding Saves His Rescuer's Life by Awakening Her from a Diabetic Seizure.")

Most amazing of all, at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, a cat named Oscar is able to predict the arrival of the Grim Reaper with far greater accuracy than the trained physicians on staff. (See Cat Defender posts of July 30, 2007 and May 27, 2010 entitled, respectively, "A Visit from Oscar Means That the Grim Reaper Cannot Be Far Behind for the Terminally Ill at a Rhode Island Nursing Home" and "When Lovers, Friends, Health, and All Hope Have Vanished, Oscar Is There for Those Who Have No One and Nothing Left.")

As if all of that were not sufficient in order to establish them as savants, cats know a good deal more about a variety of topics that are totally beyond the grasp of humans. For instance, they are able to find their way home from great distances without the assistance of either maps and GPS or stopping along the way in order to ask directions. (See Cat Defender post of April 27, 2007 entitled "A French Chat Named Mimine Walks Eight-Hundred Kilometers in Order to Track Down the Family That Abandoned Her.")

Hairy Truman Contemplates Writing His Memoirs...

Cats additionally can tell the time of day far more accurately than either Breitling or Tag Heuer and they are especially good judges of character. For example, if a cat should develop a dislike for either a lover, roommate, or visitor, it would be a good idea to get rid of that offending individual as quickly as possible.

Members of the species also are blessed with many admirable character traits that mankind never has seen fit to emulate. "There intelligent, peace-loving, four-footed friends -- who are without prejudice, without hate, without greed -- may someday teach us something," is how that celebrated author Lilian Jackson Braun once summed up the matter.

Once all the cats had been brought inside and accounted for, staffers boarded up the windows and doors and settled in for the long haul. "The cats are also accustomed to our voices and our care. We're comfortable with them; they're comfortable with us," Gonzales told the Los Angeles Times in the article cited supra. "We love them. They love us. We all hung out last night together."

Although the staffers had done all that they knew to do in order to prepare for what was to come, it would be only natural if they had not become more than a little bit anxious when Irma rattled the rafters and shook the foundation of the stately old mansion with her powerful gusts and biblical downpours. At least they had the cats for comfort.

In that respect, their plight and reliance upon something other than their own resources is reminiscent of how that a pair of men of god behaved during an earthquake that shook the Bay Area in the late 1800's. In chapter fifty-eight of his semi-autobiographical work, Roughing It, Mark Twain describes the following scene:

"The first shock brought down two or three huge organ-pipes in one of the churches. The minister, with uplifted hands, was just closing the services. He glanced up, hesitated, and said:

'However, we will omit the benediction!' -- and the next instance there was a vacancy in the atmosphere where he had stood.

After the first shock, an Oakland minister said:

'Keep your seats! There is no better place to die than this...'

And added, after the third:

'But outside is good enough!' He then skipped out at the back door."

...while an Orange Cat Has Found a More Mundane Use for the Printed Word

If it should have been the karma of the staffers to have perished, they could not have picked better company to have exited this vale of tears with than their loyal and loving cats. Besides, unlike the minister in Oakland, turning tail and running was no longer a viable option for them once Irma had begun to bear down upon them.

As things eventually turned out, she quickly moved on up the Florida Keys and in her wake not only was the museum still standing tall and proud but the cats and their minders had come through the terrifying ordeal without so much as a scratch. The only known casualties were running water, electricity, and Internet service.

Thanks to a backup generator, the museum's air conditioning system continued to hum along as usual. Moreover, even if it had given up the ghost the house's thick, limestone walls would have insulated it from the heat.

The remainder of Key West was not nearly so fortunate. For example, the water was said to have been hip-deep at Mallory Square, boats were overturned at Galleon Marina, and downed trees and footloose coconuts were scattered all across the city. (See the Miami Herald, September 16, 2017, "Fears Mount in Florida Keys over Damage, Possible Deaths from Hurricane Irma.")

Electrical lines also lay on the ground, traffic signs, propane tanks, and Dumpsters littered the landscape, roofs had been blown off of houses, and numerous trailers and RV had been overturned. Generally speaking, however, those structures that had been made of concrete and wood fared considerably better than their mobile counterparts.

"The good thing is everything can be repaired," fifty-three-year-old Alex Rivero told USA Today on September 13th. (See "Damage Heavy on Key West, but Booze Still Flows.") "But it's going to take months to put back together."

As it is always the case in times of natural disasters, it was the poor throughout Key West and the remainder of the one-hundred-seventy-seven kilometer chain of islands that make up the Florida Keys that bore the brunt of Irma's rage. (See The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 17, 2017, "Irma's Toll on Dreams," The Press of Atlantic City, September 15, 2017, "Irma Pushed Poor Closer to Ruin," and the Philadelphia Daily News, September 12, 2017, "Irma Leaving Big Messes Behind.")

Irma Tried Her Best but She Was Unable to Add to This Hallowed Ground

Evacuees were allowed to return to Key West on September 17th but they were told beforehand to bring with them food, water, medicine, and insect repellents. In addition to those spartan circumstances, some of them have been reduced to living in either their cars or sleeping in tents because of the extensive damage that was done to their houses.

Key West and Marathon high schools as well as Island Christian School and Sugarloaf School have been transformed into makeshift homeless shelters until at least September 28th when classes are scheduled to resume. At last report, curfews were in effect throughout the Keys and there was a heavy police presence in order to deter would-be looters. (See the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, September 16, 2017, "Marathon Reopens to Residents; Key West to Reopen Sunday.")

Regrettably, it has not proven possible to ascertain the fate of all the cats that were cruelly and irresponsibly left behind in Key West and throughout the Keys in order to fend for themselves. The same likewise is true for both those that are homeless as well as those that were incarcerated at shelters operated by the Florida Keys SPCA in Key West and Marathon. The city's large contingent of homeless chickens sans doute also were left to their own devices.

As far as Hemingway's cats are concerned, they are accustomed to dodging bullets. For instance, they recently survived, albeit bloodied and bruised, an almost decade long battle with the feds. (See Cat Defender posts of January 24, 2013, July 23, 2007, January 9, 2007, and August 3, 2006 entitled, respectively, "The Feds Now Have Cats and Their Owners Exactly Where They Want Them Thanks to an Outrageous Court Ruling Targeting the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West," "A Cat Behaviorist Is Summoned to Key West in Order to Help Determine the Fate of Hemingway's Polydactyls," "Papa Hemingway's Polydactyl Cats Face New Threats from Both the USDA and Their Caretakers," and "The USDA Fines the Hemingway Memorial in Key West $200 a Day for Exhibiting Papa's Polydactyl Cats Without a License.")

Last year Martha Gellhorn was jailed after she became involved in a physical altercation with a visitor to the museum. (See Cat Defender post of June 5, 2017 entitled "Martha Gellhorn Is Locked Up for Ten Days after Biting a Tourist in the Latest Calamity to Befall Ernest Hemingway's Star-Crossed Polydactyls.")

As of yesterday, the museum was still closed to the public but, according to its Facebook page, it hopes to reopen soon. In the meantime the cats are enjoying a well deserved respite from the throngs of grasping tourists who invade their cherished home every day of the week much like a horde of hungry locusts in search of a good feed.

As they have demonstrated through their ability to withstand whatever Mother Nature, the feds, and other enemies of the species are able to throw at them, the cats are true survivors in every sense of that word. If against all odds the spirit does in fact endure, Papa Hemingway surely must be extremely proud of them.

Photos: Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum (house and Hairy Truman), Facebook (Grace Kelly and staffers), Trevor Hughes of USA Today (anti-looting sign), and Trip Advisor (orange cat and the museum's cemetery).