Though USDA may have the legal authority at this time to require the Hemingway Home and Museum's management to alter their style of care for the famous "Hemingway cats", such would constitute an unnecessary use of USDA's scarce time and resources as more relevant cases of animal welfare concern await attention.
- Dr. Gregory Parham, Administrator
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Recently news media have reported a conflict between the management of The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida and the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which among other things is charged with the administration of the Animal Welfare Act. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/us/cats-at-hemingway-museum-draw-a-legal-battle.html )
Recently the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found that the cats living in The Hemingway Home and Museum are subject to the USDA's oversight due to their role in the marketing efforts of the museum. Consequently their disposition and management is subject to USDA oversight. At the USDA's direction, museum management could be required to start engaging in practices associated with the management of animals that are used in circuses, such as encagement when not being used for commercial purposes. (In the case of the cats, this would probably mean the USDA would require that the cats be kept in cages overnight or other times the Home and Museum was closed to visitors.) While currently the Agency is not requiring such steps, the cats' enjoyment of their lives in their home remains at the whim of the USDA.
Reportedly, these cats enjoy a much-higher standard of living than 99% of the human population. Personally, after I die, I'd want to come back as a Hemingway cat. Should, for some reason, these cats stop being treated well by the Museum management, undoubtedly it would not remain secret for long. Based on the role these cats play at the Home and Museum and history of the area, it is likely safe to say that there is a better chance of the Key West city council declaring a dissolution of its own authority than these cats being treated in any way less than in a model fashion.
While not necessarily disputing the Court's decision, the signatories of this petition wish to convey the following sentiments to the USDA:
1. As people concerned with the treatment and well-being of non-humans, we are confident that these cats in particular are receiving exemplary care, and this makes us happy.
2. The particular situation these cats are in makes the application of laws meant to improve the well-being of animals used in commercial operations to be not fully-relevant. The legal provisions governing animals used in commercial operations assume the animals in question are not in essence domesticated companion animals, especially ones as docile as housecats. While the laws may address with greater or lesser success the disposition of non- domestic animals, they were not written with cats living in what amounts to a domestic situation (albeit one with many visitors) in mind.
3. Based on our two observations above, and as taxpayers, we do not see the need for USDA to be using any more of our money to continue to pursue investigations into the disposition of these cats. Inspections regarding enforcement require time and money. Agents going to Key West to inspect the care of cats at the Hemingway Home seem to us to be an unnecessary expense and entail an opportunity cost that sacrifices the use of their time elsewhere in scenarios more likely to reveal cases of animal welfare violations.
Therefore, we ask at this time that USDA management exercise their discretion and accept the Hemingway Home management's current treatment and disposition of the cats; should in future they have some reasonable basis to believe that the cats are no longer receiving a level of treatment consistent with their needs, then by all means, we would support their involvement with efforts to correct any problems they discover. However as voters and taxpayers, we do not believe that USDA need be involved with the cats' management and disposition so long as their guardians continue to care for them with their well-being as their priority.
Matthew Campbell started this petition with a single signature, and now has 226 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.