7960511464?profile=originalA polydactyl cat stands on a desk near Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter at the Hemingway House in Key West.

Photo provided

By Arden Moore

    Sporting a ZIP code from Palm Beach County certainly makes you the envy of those stuck in lackluster locations, but when you look for a getaway, where do you go to find a paradise of equal or greater value?
    Key West. Especially if you are a fan of felines.
    Admit it, the sunsets seem more stunning, the pace more leisurely and the margaritas more delicious in Key West than in any city in Palm Beach County.
    Although this place draws people from all over the globe, locals tell me that Key West remains the go-to destination for South Floridians looking for a two- or three-day reprieve from I-95 traffic and work deadlines.
    Recently, I returned to Key West to check out the multi-toed cats doggone lucky to live within the brick-walled compound known as the Hemingway House.
    My guide was Jessica Pita, a fourth-generation “conch”  (Key West native), who followed in the footsteps of her grandmother to be on staff at the Hemingway House.
    For me, this was a double treat. I have long been a fan of Hemingway’s succinct writing style and I’ve been a lifelong lover of cats. Love or loathe Hemingway for his hard-drinking ways, but this macho guy never hid his undeniable affection for cats.
    His love affair with all things feline is rumored to have begun with a white cat named Snowball.
    In the 1930s, when Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, moved into this gracious island home, a ship captain gave him a special cat — one with extra toes. Most cats sport five toes on each front paw and four on each back paw, but Snowball had six on each front paw.
    Legend has it that cats with extra toes (referred to as polydactyl cats) were coveted by ship captains in the 1800s and early 1900s because the extra toes enabled these sea-faring cats to handle the ship’s rocking motions and thus, made them better mousers to rid the ship of disease-carrying rodents.
    Today, about 45 of Snowball’s descendants live the cat-napping life of luxury inside the Hemingway House. Sure, there is nearly invisible netting draped above the brick wall encasing this one-acre compound, but the main door where tourists purchase tickets is usually open.
    Rarely has any Hemingway cat opted to venture outside the premises.
    Seriously, why would they? They get stellar veterinary care, nutritious meals, lots of photo ops with tourists and plenty of places inside the home and on the beautifully landscaped grounds to safely explore or snooze without the threat of any d-o-g-s or other predators.
    Polydactyl cats can be of any breed, but Maine coons for unknown reasons are more prone to having extra toes.
    They are also referred to as “mitten cats” and “cats with thumbs.” It is a gene mutation, but there have not been any medical problems associated with having extra toes.
    The Hemingway cats I met were all laid back and happy to receive chin scratches and to pose for photos.
It is tradition for these cats to be given names of famous people, which explains why I got the chance to hang out with Greta Garbo, Lionel Ritchie, Etta James and my personal favorite, Hairy Truman (not a typo).
    Before I bade adieu to Jessica Pita and the Hemingway cats, I made a stop in the gift shop and left with a unique T-shirt sporting a watercolor rendering of a polydactyl cat with a raised front paw declaring “Gimme 6!”


    Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave! show on PetLifeRadio.com. Visit www.fourleggedlife.com.

If you go to Key West
    If you are new to Key West, I recommend you hop on one of the trains operated by a few different companies. You can hop on and off throughout the day and learn Key West lore unleashed by drivers sporting names like Captain Jack.
    You will discover why the roofs are made of tin, why roosters scamper everywhere and why the margaritas are sipped best inside Sloppy Joe’s while listening to a talented piano man.
    If you bring your well-mannered dog, you’re in luck as there are many pet-welcoming eateries and lodgings. Go to www.bringfido for specifics. Also, consider taking in a movie with your cool canine at the Tropic Cinema located downtown at 416 Eaton St.
    Save time to tour the Hemingway House, open 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For ticket info and more details, visit www.hemingwayhome.com or call (305) 294-1136.

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