Legal catfight over Hemingway's famous '6-toed' pets

The Florida museum that houses the late writer Ernest Hemingway's famous "six-toed cats" wants the federal government to keep its paws off the 47 free-roaming felines.

The Florida museum that houses the late writer Ernest Hemingway's famous "six-toed cats" wants the federal governmentto keepits paws off the 47 free-roaming felines.

Key West has sided with the people who run the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum to let the unusual animals remain cage free, also exempting the site from a city law that prohibits more than four domestic animals in a household.

But dozing on the late writer's historic property, the polydactyl residents did not appear bothered about the fact they faced near-eviction after being caught under the claws of bureaucracy. Polydactyl cats have more than five toes on at least one paw — a trait shown by about half the cats at Hemingway House.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had insisted the cats, all apparent descendants of Hemingway'soriginal pet Snowball, should only remain at the museum if itcould obtain a special licence. The USDA claimed this was because it considered Hemingway House to be an "exhibitor" of cats.

After being twice denied the licence due to the fact the cats are to be contained on one acre (0.4 of a hectare) of property, the museum disputed theclaim it was an "exhibitor."

Last week, the Hemingway House won official support from the Key West city commission that the cats "are not on exhibition in the manner of circus animals."

The exemption stated the family of Hemingway cats — which all carry Snowball's rare gene, even those that don't havesix toes— "are indeed animals of historic, social and tourism significance." It also declared the cats to be "an integral part of the history and ambiance" of the Hemingway House.

According to the Hemingway House website, Snowball was given to Hemingway as a gift from a sea captain in 1935.

The museum hasreportedly spent close to $200,000 US to appease the USDA.

With files from the Associated Press