Friday, September 4, 2009

Hemingway and Our Cats

Last Spring we had a new addition to our feline family, little miss Polly. She was an extra barn cat from a friend's place. What enamored us to her was the fact that she had seven toes on all of her feet, front and hind. It's not too unusual to have extra toes on either the front or back, but it is rare to have extras on all four feet. The term for extra digits is polydactyly, hence her name: Polly.

Anyway, while in Columbia, Missouri, last Summer, visiting my daughter and her husband, I mentioned the cat and they told me that Ernest Hemingway had polydactyl cats, and that they have since multiplied down at his museum in the Florida Keys.  According to the website:

"The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately sixty cats. Normal cats have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum are polydactyl. Ernenst Hemingway was given a six-toed cat by a ship's captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related. Our cats are not a partiular breed, but appear to be a combination of various breeds--sort of "Heinz 57" if you will. They are all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities."

A ship's captain, huh? I never tried taking a cat in the boat fishing with me, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Well, those extra toes came in handy. Last winter, Polly flew across the top of the lightest snows with her permanent snow shoes. Some darned old Tomcat must have been hiding behind a snow bank, though. After all of these years of owning cats and faithfully neutering and spaying them, we overlooked spaying Polly. So sure enough, this Spring she gave birth to five kittens.

Some had multiple toes, and others did not.

We had no problem at all finding homes for them, and they were a lot of fun raising to a weaning age, but we definitely were never going to let her have another litter.

In theory, that is. I guess our little celibacy talk went right in one ear and out the other. Before we knew it, Polly, failed our deluxe pregnancy tester. She no longer fit through the cat door to the basement:

And sure enough, we came home one day to find six more little ones piled up in the dog bed.
As an author, Hemingway was prolific...  but it was nothing in comparison to his cats.


  1. What a wonderful story. Wish I were close enough to adopt one of the kittens as we just lost our cat of 20 years!

  2. A really heartwarming story. I've taken my cats for car rides but never in a boat. I would not take them in the car again without a carrier! LOL
    Sunny :)

  3. We've had "polys" too....but the last was named "Rocky"...and he was a contender!

  4. We had some feral cats that we tamed that had 7 PAWS each. Not only extra toes but extra PAWS. They were very easy to place. One litter we bottle fed because the mother had been hit by a car.

  5. I want some pictures from Pricilla there and the 7 pawed cats...

    But kittens are nice for while...but tell me you got Polly spayed after that last litter!

    She looks like a sweet heart. That pregnancy gauge is funny and SMART!

  6. Better march her right to the vets ......
    She must be popular with the boys

  7. I left a comment awhile ago, but I don't see it. I'll try again. I remember I said that I really like the cat door you cut and that I didn't know there were so many cats at Hemmingway's place. I think people must dump the many toed cats there, because I remember reading that they got their cats neutered. Your kittens are so cute. I pick the tiger kitten.

  8. Greetings from Taylor Co :).

    Love the "cat pass", LOL.

  9. Very adorable cats. Interesting story about Hemmingway. Thanks for sharing.

  10. What a beautiful story and a beautiful cat. Polly! How fitting of her name.
    I am the proud owner of a Hemmingway too. She is a Russian Blue color. Her mom was an old barn cat and her dad was...I think a traveling salesman. Out of the little of 4, she is the only one with extra toes on all 4 feet. She is a very loving cat. We named her Captain Hooks and call her Captain.