One of the popular tourist attractions for cat lovers visiting Key West is the Ernest Hemingway home, which draws around 250,000 visitors each year. The museum is famous for being home to about 40 – 50 polydactyl cats which are allowed to freely roam the grounds. A recent ruling by the 11th Circuit of the United Sates Court of Appeals has ruled that the cats are subject to regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The museum cares for these cats, providing food, regular veterinary care and shelter for the cats. About 10 years ago, a visitor to the famous Key West landmark filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the care of the cats. In 2003, after investigating the complaint, the USDA declared the museum to be classified as an “animal exhibitor” because the museum charges admission and the cats are a featured attraction. This subjected the attraction to federal regulation under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The museum challenged this decision in 2009, but the court ruled in favor of the government’s position.
On December 7th, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the original decision. The USDA wants the museum to: “…obtain an exhibitor’s license; contain and cage the cats in individual shelters at night, or alternatively, construct a higher fence or an electric wire atop the existing brick wall, or alternatively, hire a night watchman to monitor the cats; tag each cat for identification purposes; construct additional elevated resting surfaces for the cats within their existing enclosures; and pay fines for the Museum’s non-compliance with the AWA.”
At this point, the Hemingway museum has the option to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.