Unusual Cats

Unusual Cats: Ernest Hemingway’s Polydactyl Cats

Do you love cats? Unusual cats?

T.S. Elliot’s cats, such as Gumbie Cat, Jennyanydots, Gus the Theater Cat, Mr. Mistoffelees, Deuteronomy, Macavity the mystery cat, Skimbleshanks the railway cat, Mungojerrie or Rumpelteazer? Or the Jellicle cats that could sing at night to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s tunes?

Do you love cats in multi colors such as white cats, black cats, brown cats, tiger-striped cast, and a whole lot more?

Hemingway HomeThen you may be interested in what we found at the sometimes home (1928-1940) of Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida during our recent visit there. 

There we found 52 beautiful polydactyl cats, also known as Hemingway cats. That’s because a ship captain gave a white polydactyl cat named Snowball to writer Ernest Hemingway, and Hemingway was attached for life. In addition to being a prolific writer, he became an obsessive lover of his cat and its descendants, most of whom had extra toes.

The phenomenon of extra toes – usually six or seven on the front paws – is the result of a congenital abnormality, genetically inherited as an autosomal dominant trait of the Pd gene with incomplete penetrance.

IMG_7640Today the Hemingway cats roam freely throughout the house and property, protected by the terms of Hemingway’s will. They all are called by fanciful names based on movie stars or characters in one of his books. We met Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe and Errol Flynn. One even found time to sit on Carolyn’s lap!


Local mobile veterinarian, Edie Clarke, DVM, calls on the cats at least once a week. She aims to keep the number between 45 and 55. During the week staff look after the cats. There are seven feeding stations to be kept fresh and condos for each of the cats to maintain. Docents call the cats by name and offer them treats, much to the delight of the cats and those of us visiting.

For more information of particular interest to veterinarians, see our blog at www.VeterinarianCommunication.com.

That’s it for now.

Carolyn and John

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