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Fight over Papa’s island cats

Some 50 to 60 cats live at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum,, on Florida’s Key West, most thought to descend from a cat owned by the legendary writer and sportfisherman. While the feline family has roamed the grounds for generations, the issue of how they are kept is turning into a fight.

About half the cats are polydactyl, meaning they have extra toes, just like the original cat. The animals have been a point of pride for the museum and a tourist draw for decades.

A complaint filed by the Florida Keys Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 2003 alleged the cats are not adequately cared for, according to news reports. Several cats have been injured or killed since then, with cats reportedly leaving the property and being struck by cars.

In various news reports, opponents contend the cats should either be caged or removed from the property. Museum administrators and local politicians argue the animals are cared for, fed, given routine shots and prophylactic medicine for heartworm and fleas and treated by a veterinarian when injured.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture got involved and this week is sending a veterinarian and animal behaviorist from the University of Florida to observe the cats’ condition.

Approximately 500 people visit the museum each day.

Rich Armstrong