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For Hemingway's cats, the bell won't toll

September 26, 2008 | 10:06 am

The_next_purrfect_american_novel

The famous six-toed cats at Ernest Hemingway's island home aren't going anywhere, the Associated Press reports:

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum announced Thursday that it had reached an agreement with the federal government that allows the 50 or so cats to continue to roam the grounds, ending a five-year battle that could have resulted in the felines being removed or caged.

Most of the cats descend from Snowball, a cat given to the novelist in 1935. Since then, the felines have freely wandered the grounds of the Spanish colonial house. All the cats carry the gene for six toes, but not all show the trait.

The home is where the Nobel Prize-winning author wrote "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "To Have and Have Not" and is one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Florida Keys.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the agreement. It had threatened to fine the museum $200 per day per cat -- about $10,000 a day -- saying the museum didn't have the proper animal exhibition license and couldn't qualify for one, primarily because the animals weren't enclosed.

The museum has installed a fence to keep the animals on the one-acre property.

From 2003 until October, a series of meetings between the USDA and museum officials proved fruitless, Michael Morawski, president and chief executive of the museum, told the Associated Press. He said the museum has spent more than $250,000 on lawyers and the fence and continues to question the need for the permit. 

"The cats have been living on the grounds for years, and we're not a zoo, carnival or amusement park," Morawski said.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Rob O'Neal / Associated Press

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