To the People

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or TO THE PEOPLE.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Farewell to Cats

Recipe for a good ToThePeopleTini:

Mix one dead author, a couple of small-dicked federal bureaucrats, an animal rights activist who wants to deprive animals of their sexual rights, and four dozen deformed cats. Put an umbrella in it. Sit back and enjoy.

Via CQ (subscription required, which is why I'm posting most of it).

Much of the most famous writing of Ernest Hemingway is about primal encounters between men and the animal kingdom, such as the epic battles to land a fish and outlive charging bulls. Now, however, his legacy also includes a gaggle of more than four dozen cats, and they're facing off against a battery of inspectors from the Department of Agriculture.

The animals all make their home at the house where Hemingway lived in Key West, which is now a private museum. Curators of the Florida home insist that the felines are, after a fashion, part of the museum's Hemingway collection: They descend from a six-toed cat named Snowball Jr., a gift to Hemingway from Massachusetts salvage boat captain Stanley Dexter in 1935. They've been bred to extend Snowball's six-toed condition, a sign of good luck in mariner lore. About half the cats have the extra digit - or, as the technical term has it, they're polydactyl.

But USDA inspectors, who are charged with enforcing federal standards of animal care, are none too sentimental about such things. For the past three years, they have been trying to compel the Hemingway home to be duly certified as an animal exhibitor. That means obtaining a license from the department certifying that the animals are well cared for and cannot escape....

...The USDA appears to want to contain one in particular, a young male named Ivan. He's one of the designated stud cats, whose job it is to pass along his six-toed genes to as many litters as possible. Ivan got the feds' attention by behaving like, well, a tomcat. Several times he's jumped the property's six-foot wall and been captured by a neighbor named Deborah Schultz. She also is vice president of the Florida Keys Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - and is something of a bugbear on mandatory pet sterilization...

...Darby Holladay, an Agriculture spokesman, won't say why the Hemingway cats are such a high priority, beyond the department's general concern for the welfare of wandering cats like Ivan. The USDA wants "additional fencing and/or barriers to protect the cats from getting off the property where they could be subject to being run over," he says.

The Hemingway museum's keepers say they've added fencing, though they find it unsightly and think it detracts from the experience of their 200,000 annual visitors. It is plastic mesh, which Ivan appears to elude easily, and the USDA animal exhibitor standards call for electrified chain link and barbed wire, which the museum contends would be both an absurd overreaction to housecats and a potential safety hazard to visitors.

Museum keepers take umbrage over the notion that they're in any way neglecting their feline charges. "These cats are treated like Key West royalty," says Cara Higgins, a partner with the Key West law firm Horan & Wallace, which represents the museum. They receive weekly veterinary visits, free medicine courtesy of Pfizer Inc., and gourmet Eukanuba cat food from The Iams Co. If anything, Higgins contends, the pressure from Washington could threaten the animals' welfare; full compliance with the federal exhibitor standards could involve caging the cats -several of which are old and unlikely to adjust well to round-the-clock confinement -or outright euthanizing to reduce the population.

Last month, Higgins filed a lawsuit in Miami federal court against USDA, demanding that it cease regulatory proceedings on the grounds that the museum does not meet the definition of an "exhibitor" under animal welfare laws, which typically apply to zoos and circuses. If Judge K. Michael Moore concurs, the facility need not obtain a USDA license, or have further dealings with the agency.

USDA's Holladay is confident that the law is on the department's side. "The Hemingway house actively promotes the cats on their Web site, and they incorporate the cats in the guided tours," he says. "Under the Animal Welfare Act, that is sufficient to meet the criteria for exhibiting, so they need an exhibiting license."