Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Help Me Howard: Cat Fight
The United States Department of Agriculture is in charge of investigating important items like bird flu and mad cow disease. But lately, they've been spending their time looking into kitty cats at the Hemingway Museum in Key West. Thousands of dollars later, there's no end in sight to this Cat Fight. 7's Patrick Fraser investigates.
WSVN -- They're playful, they're picky, they're engaging and they're aloof. And if they could talk, they would tell you they are very special cats.
Diamond Dave:"This is Archibald McLeish. He was named after a famous poet -- Hemingway's best friend in France."
They are the Hemingway cats of Key West.
Mike Morawski: "These cats, as you walk around the grounds, are very friendly. They see hundreds to a thousand people a day, depending on the season."
The Hemingway cats have become famous because they have six toes. Each one is a direct descendant of a tomcat given to Ernest Hemingway more than 70 years ago.
Jackie: "They're just like my cats at home. I love them. I know their names, just like I know my cats at home."
The tourists who come to pet and play with the cats might love them, but the agriculture department says they are not house cats and should be treated like lions and tigers.
Jacque Sands: "These are domestic cats. These are pets. These are not lions, and they're not tigers."
The trouble began when a woman who works at the local animal shelter complained to the agriculture department that the cats were going over the fence and were in danger. The Hemingway people say the only reason the cats jumped the fence is because the woman, who does feed strays, started luring the six-toed cats over the fence.
Jacques Sands: "She would come in the early morning and then in the evening and put out food on the sidewalks, in the driveway and up on our fence."
The woman from the shelter claimed she was just feeding strays in the area. But one Hemingway cat named Ivan kept smelling the food and going over the fence. At that point, he was grabbed and hauled off to the animal shelter.
Cara Higgins:"They required my client to then go to the shelter and pay hundreds of dollars each time to release him. She did this four times over a period of just weeks."
After receiving the complaints about Ivan's escapes, the USDA spent thousands of dollars to send investigators to Key West -- six times -- to check out the cats.
Cara Higgins: "It is absolutely ridiculous."
Of course, employees had nothing to hide and were happy to show the investigators around.
Mike Morawski: "We gave them a two-hour tour, walked them around the property, and gave them carte blanche to the property."
After touring the Hemingway Museum, the investigators made their decision. The cats belong in a cage.Mike Morawski: "All of them caged? Why? We have a one-acre natural habitat for them to roam where they've roamed for generations."
The USDA told us they don't do interviews about ongoing investigations. However, a spokesman did say the Hemingway House "will not be in compliance until they are licensed as an exhibitor of animals."
They can't get that license until they "meet all federal regulations for the care and safety of the animals," which means the cats can't be loose.
Jacques Sands:"We feel doing what they've asked us to do is impossible. It's not achievable to put these cats in cages every day."
Staff members say it would be inhumane to the animals and unfair to thousands of tourists who come to pet and play with the world-renowned six-toed cats.
Jacques Sands: "Trevor is one, he has lots of visitors who come back to see him."
But trying to convince a bureaucrat that these are domestic cats and not circus animals that need to be caged has failed. So, the Hemingway people have filed suit in federal court.
Mike Morawsky: "We do need to get in front of a judge to be able to take the facts and reason this out."
Hopefully a judge will end this cat fight.
Diamond Dave: "Now, Archie is the lord of the manor."
Lord of the manor he is and certainly not a lion in a cage.
Since the Hemingway Museum sued the USDA, they have come back with a counter suit of sorts, seeking permission to fine the museum $200 per cat, per day until they come into compliance.
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