Welcome to my backyard--the Florida Keys! I'm a travel writer, blogger and photographer with a passion for all things Florida, especially the Florida Keys. These islands are so much more than Duval Street and Jimmy Buffet. They are rich in history, culture, cuisine, nature and events--all surrounded by pristine waters teeming with wildlife. Whether you're a local or a visitor, the Conch Republic has many surprises in store. Let me be your guide.
Last month the Hemingway Home and Museum lost a decade long legal battle with the U.S. government, giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority to regulate the famous resident six-toed cats. The USDA argued that the 40 to 50 cats roaming the property had more in common with performers in a zoo or circus than your regular house cat. Now the museum is required to get a Federal Animal Welfare License and adhere to any restrictions that come with it. That left me wondering. Have they actually seen the cats in action — or should I say inaction? When I visited the two-story Hemingway Home, the cats had free reign of the one-acre grounds. They lounged under the shade of tropical fruit trees and sipped water at the urinal-turned-fountain from the original Sloppy Joe’s. Exhibiting the same ambivalence that I’ve seen in most house cats, they stopped for a petting if, and when, they felt like it.
Many of the cats are descendants of Snowball, who legend says was the first six-toed cat given to Ernest Hemingway by a ship’s captain sometime during the '30s. The felines seem to take their lineage seriously, regally doing as they please, and they’ve all been named after famous people. During the tour of the home’s interior, a black-and-white kitty named Greta Garbo dozed atop a glass display case full of Papa's memorabilia. As we entered Hemingway’s bedroom, a tan-and-white puss named Fats Waller jumped up on the antique bed and looked expectantly at the tour guide, who reflexively reached in his pocket for a bag of treats. After his snack, the cat gave a big yawn and stretched out on the bed for a snooze. When you visit, spend some time observing these furry felines.