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MONDAY, JULY 31, 2006
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EDITORIAL

USDA should tread lightly around authorís 6-toed cats

Six-toed cats charm visitors to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Fla. The gentle, contented animals lounge on furniture and gift-shop shelves, as well as in gardens, under bushes and on patios. They're one of the fondest memories many people bring away from a tour of the place where Mr. Hemingway wrote "A Farewell to Arms" and "To Have and Have Not."

These 50 or more cats are descendants of a multi-toed feline that Mr. Hemingway received as a gift in 1935. They provide a living connection to the writer that complements the inanimate objects that he knew and used.

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture is in a dispute with the home's operators about the cats. The agency has repeatedly denied a license to the home under the Animal Welfare Act.

The Associated Press says agency inspectors have visited repeatedly since October 2003, never expressing concern about the cats' welfare but saying that a 6-foot brick-and-mortar fence, which the author built in 1937, is not sufficient to contain that many cats. (Who knew that a fence could contain any cats?)

USDA wants the cats caged, according to a complaint that the Home and Museum filed in federal court. Some are as old as 19 years, and this would traumatize them, the complaint says. We might add that this would give the cats and tourists less opportunity to enjoy each other.

Let's hope they find a

common-sense solution that protects the cats but does not mess up a good thing that started 71 years ago.

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