The multitoed cats that have lived for decades in comfort and ease at Key West's Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum may continue to do so, a court has ruled.
But those cats will be protected and regulated by the U. S Department of Agriculture from here on out, just like any animals that are exhibited for a profit.
That's the puzzling upshot of a decision that has the famously independent city in an uproar and wondering if the decision can be appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.
The ruling -- which may turn out to be totally irrelevant to the lives of the Hemingway cats and their keepers -- is the climax of a long-ago complaint of a visitor to the Hemingway home that the cats were not well treated.
Even though inspectors, including one from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, concluded that the cats were well-cared for, federal judges decided that their role as attractions at the museum makes them eligible for federal regulation.
To reach that position, the Christian Science Monitor reports, the judges had to decide whether a bunch of six-toed cats affect interstate commerce:
The court said the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) has been broadly interpreted by federal officials to authorize regulation of any exhibit of animals that are made available to the public.
There is no dispute that the museum includes scores of cats that are permitted to roam the grounds during visiting hours. Since admission is charged to see the house and the cats are part of the property, the AWA permits regulation of the cats, the court said.
The appeals court also concluded this broad interpretation of the AWA to extend to the regulation of cats in a museum did not exceed Congress’s power to authorize such federal regulations under the Commerce Clause.
The question, the court said, was whether the Hemingway cats “substantially affect” interstate commerce.
The judges said they do.
The cats have a long history that's deeply intertwined with Hemingway's, who may or may not have owned one of the polydactyl cats. Here's a video of the cats.