Six-toed cats can remain at Hemingway museum

Hemingway cat: One of Snowball's many descendants takes it easy behind the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida.
Hemingway cat: One of Snowball's many descendants takes it easy behind the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The fifty or so cats living around the former estate of author Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida, have been granted a reprieve from the US Department of Agriculture and are being allowed to remain on the grounds where the famed novelist once lived. The island property is now the Hemingway Home and Museum, and one of Key West’s more popular attractions. The federal agency originally wanted the cats removed or caged because the museum lacked the proper license to exhibit animals.

All the cats roaming the grounds are descended from a cat named Snowball given to the author by a ship’s captain in the 1930s. Snowball was a polydactyl cat, meaning its paws contained more than the usual number of toes. Typically a cat has 18 toes – five on the front and four on back. Polydactyls commonly have six or seven toes on the front, and sometimes an extra one on the rear, but the record is held by a California cat that had an incredible eight toes on each foot! Polydactyly is a congenital abnormality genetically passed down to offspring. In some cases the extra toes are like opposable thumbs giving the cats an almost human-like dexterity. Snowball’s descendents all carry the genetic trait but not all are polydactyl.

Ernie the cat
Ernie the catCourtesy Mark Ryan
Our family cat was a polydactyl, and we named him Ernie in honor of Hemingway and his six-toed cats. Ernie’s extra-large feet allowed him to gain lots of weight during his life with us. At his heftiest he weighed 24 pounds. He was huge, a real lard butt. His full name - Ernesto ”El Gato Gordo” Hemingway - was well deserved.

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More about polydactyl cats

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Joe's picture
Joe says:

One of the best parts of visiting Hemingway's house is those cats - I am gald they can stay!

posted on Sun, 09/28/2008 - 7:54am

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