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How Ernest Hemingway's cats became a federal case (+video)

The descendants of Ernest Hemingway's cats – dozens of them – freely roam the writer's former home, now a museum. In a controversial court case, a judge says the felines must be regulated under federal law.

A judge ruled Ernest Hemingway's cats must be regulated under federal law.
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Key West has a well-earned reputation as a haven for misfits, outcasts, and free-spirits. The locals don’t even consider themselves part of the United States of America. They refer to the place as the Conch Republic.

So it is more than a bit ironic that Key West is also the location of a knock-down, drag-out fight over the federal government’s power under the US Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate… cats.

And not just any cats, either. The cats being subjected to federal oversight are the descendants of the famous six-toed felines raised and cared for by former Key West resident and author Ernest Hemingway.

Mr. Hemingway spent most of the 1930s in Key West completing some of his best work. Now, his former house at 907 Whitehead Street is a museum open to daily tours and the occasional wedding.

It also continues to be home to 40 to 50 six-toed cats that are a living legacy of Hemingway. As in Hemingway’s time, the cats are allowed to roam and lounge at will in the house and on the one-acre grounds.

That’s how the federal government became involved.

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At some point several years ago, a museum visitor expressed concern about the cats’ care. The visitor took that concern all the way to the US Department of Agriculture and, literally, made a federal case out of it.

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