Another entry from 101 Travel Bits: Key West. I’m thinking this is probably one of Schoner’s favorites.

In days past, despite their known distaste for swimming, cats were regularly found on ships. The relationship between humans and cats on ships was symbiotic; the cats needed something to eat, and the people wanted a way to get rid of rats and other vermin who would eat valuable and limited human food supplies. Some of the cats who accompanied the sailors on their ocean crossings were polydactyl cats. Polydactyl cats have extra toes on their feet, making them look as if they are wearing mittens. Polydactyl cats were supposed to be superior mousers, and their extra toes were rumored to provide more balance to cats being thrown about by the waves.

What do polydactyl cats have to do with Key West? For that, you have to turn to Key West’s most famous former resident, Ernest Hemingway. . . . While he was living in Key West, a ship’s captain gave Hemingway a white, six-toed cat. This cat, named Snow White or Snowball, depending on who you ask, moved into the Hemingway Home. More polydactyl cats followed, all of which were named after famous people. Even though Hemingway eventually left Key West, the cats remained and are now sometimes known as the “Hemingway Cats.”

Today, approximately 40-50 cats make the Hemingway Home their home. Some of these cats descend from that original white cat. Although only half of the cats on the property look polydactyl, all of them carry the gene for polydactyl toes and therefore, any of them can become parents to polydactyl cats.

Now a famous attraction in their own right, the Hemingway Cats were the subject of a decade-long lawsuit in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture sought to regulate the conditions under which the cats were kept. Ultimately, it was found that the government could regulate the cats, though there is no sign that the Hemingway Cats will be going anywhere any time soon. Even hurricanes don’t affect the cats; during Hurricane Irma, all feline residents of the Hemingway Home made it through the storm unscathed.

And now, some of the lounging Hemingway Cats. They may be less inclined to put up with my photo taking than is Schooner.

For more of our travel writing, check out our 101 Travel Bits series:

101 Travel Bits: The Alaska Highway

101 Travel Bits: Key West

101 Travel Bits: The Overseas Highway and the Florida Keys