Judge: Feds can regulate Hemingway cats

Famous cats at Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West are interstate commerce, says court

KEY WEST, Fla. - The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the famous cats roaming the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West can be regulated by the federal government.

The case began when a complaint was filed to the federal government about how the 45 cats that live on the property were treated.

"Someone thought that we needed to be regulated or watched or counseled," said Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum Event Director Dave Gonzales.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted a fence built, which the museum did.

"It's a net fence that has curvature at the top that prevents the cats from exiting the property," said Gonzales.

The museum then filed suit against the USDA. Gonzales said the federal government doesn't need to monitor the cats, which never crossed state lines.

"There is a cat here, a cat there, one sleeping, one playing, one chasing a lizard -- that's the true integrity, history that we want to preserve," said Gonzales.

But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying the cats can be regulated because they are interstate commerce.

READ: Judge's ruling

The USDA issued a statement, saying: "The Museum invites and receives thousands of admission-paying visitors from beyond Florida, many of whom are drawn by the Museum's reputation for and purposeful marketing of the Hemingway cats."

The cats are descendants of Hemingway's pet Snowball. May have six toes on their front paws.

"Push your finger on the appendage, it'll come out and he's very nice about it," said Gonzales.

The museum is concerned that it will have to operate more like a zoo and put the animals in cages overnight. So far, the USDA has not made that a requirement. 

Gonzales said all but one or two of the cats are spayed or neutered, and breeding is closely monitored by a veterinarian that goes there once a week.

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