Monday, February 20, 2012

The Hemingway Cats

Harry Truman, from the Hemingwayhome website page.

Ernest Hemingway will be remembered for many things. Most importantly will likely be his literary legacy. His rich stories were, and still are, a part of almost every American child’s English reading list resume. He is described as one of Americas most honored and respected authors. He is also remembered for his extravagant life and his eccentricities. His home in Key West remains a tribute to his life, his love of writing, and his cats.

His home in Old Town Key West is now a museum and is open to the public. It draws thousands of visitors each year. In addition to being able to walk through the place where he created most of his famous writings and where he and his family spent over a decade of their lives the museum maintains a colony of about 40-50 cats. As I learned from their website;, the first Hemingway cat was named “Snowball” and was given to Mr. Hemingway by a ship’s captain.
Snowball with Patrick and Gregory, Hemingwayhome website photo

(Side note; many ships crews included a ships cat to keep the hungry mice under control on those long sea voyages where you had to carry enough food for the entire crew and be prepared for the long hard months at sea. I could never convince any of my ships captain’s to let me revive this long standing tradition and let me bring a kitty aboard (and also to keep me company.) But IF I had been given my own ship I would have had my own cat! (named King Neptune, of course), and besides they bring good luck.)

“Snowball” was a polydactyl cat. Polydactyl’s have more than the normal 5 front and 4 back toes. (I have seen cats with 7 front toes!) They are usually extra “thumbs,” because they usually occur between the pointer (finger) and thumb toes. From this first cat “Snowball” the colony grew and is now maintained by the museum staff and their Veterinarian Dr. Edie Clark at 40-50. About half of the colony cats are polydactyl but they all carry the gene to pass this trait on to their kittens. It is said that many of the cats in Key West are polydactyl and it is widely believed that they are all likely related. Polydactyl is not a breed, it is a trait.  We, for example, call black and white cats “tuxedo’s”, and brindled cats “tortoise-shell,” and tri-colored cats “calico’s” even though none of these titles are a breed. What makes cats even more interesting is that you can get almost any color kitten out of almost any colored cat. And we see polydactyl’s in litter of kittens from feral colonies. Lots of genetic mixing going on in those cat colonies. It is Mother Nature’s way of keeping the gene pool well blended and healthy!

Hemingway named all of his cats after famous people and the museum continues this tradition today.  (I love this idea! But we will stick to “our favorite Southern US cities” for our dogs).
Ivan, from Hemingwayhome photo

The website stated that the colony cats are sponsored by Pfizer. Pfizer donates their product Revolution which is a spot on topical flea, heartworm, de-wormer, and ear mite treatment to all of the cats at the Hemingway colony. I wanted to give a little shout out to Pfizer for this. I recommend this product, (it is actually my favorite cat topical product, and I am NOT paid to say this, I am just giving you my professional opinion.) Revolution is the best topical spot on for cats, especially those that aren’t in a heavily flea burdened area. It is also expensive. For us a 6 pack (that’s 6 monthly treatments is about $90, so 40 cats monthly is a nice chunk of change.
Capt Tony, benny Goodman, Fats Waller, from Hemingwayhome photo

 The museum website describes their kitties as “sometimes it looks as f they are wearing mittens because they appear to have a thumb on their paw.”
Mittens right front foot.

My surgery schedule for today had a polydactyl “Mittens.” She came from one of our clients who is helping get a feral colony near her home get all of the cats, spayed, neutered, and vaccinated.  Sure enough she had 1 extra toe on her front feet.

We trimmed her extra/inner toenail.
Rear foot, extra toe

In the cat world anything that sets you apart is in most cases a beneficial thing. There are lots and lots of cats out there vying for a limited number of homes, so extra toes on a cat usually indicates a better chance of being adopted. Extra toes are “cute” to most owners and a little extra “cuteness” is always a good thing. I always warn owners that extra toes are also an extra responsibility. A cat’s natural nail shedding ability is made more difficult when your “extra” toe is wedged in between the other toes. These extra toes are also not shed normally because they aren’t used like the rest of the normally functioning toes. Sometimes they lack the ability to extend and retract them, and because they aren’t in contact with the floor, or a tree, or scratching post the excess over grown nails aren’t worn down or shed. I have seen many polydactyl cats come into the clinic with their extra toe(s) having grown into their foot. These nails are very sharp and pinpoint toenail becomes embedded in the pad of the foot until it becomes infected and so painful that the cat won’t use their leg. I don’t generally recommend de-claws, except for these guys. If your cat has extra toes then please check them frequently and keep them trimmed. If your polydactyl is an outside cat then I recommend that you talk to your vet about de-clawing the nails from the toes that are unable to be shed normally.

The extra toe

No comments:

Post a Comment