Preview of Coming Attractions

Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Key West, Florida: Sacred Cats

“You know about how cows are treated in India?” Gary prefaces—and I do remember my astonishment at Brahmin cows meandering the busy city streets and markets, cows settling down in the midst of intersections in New Dehli, while motorcycles and buses careen around them. “That’s how cats are in Key West. As though we have an unspoken agreement that they are to be treated as sacred. I don’t think there is a cat on the island that goes hungry. Key West is a cat culture.”

As the ‘cat manager’ of the Island City House Hotel, Gary stands among the island’s cat caretakers. Guests seek out the hotel because of its friendly feline reputation. “I saw the cats on your website and its why I decided to stay here.” He is often told.

Though Gary does point out the most of the B&Bs and Inns on the island with a garden setting also feature resident cats. Usually, the cats wander onto the property and decide to stay, basking in the attention of the guests. “Its almost like these tourists are on safari or something, as though there weren’t any domestic cats in New Jersey or Connecticut, the way the guests fawn over the cats.” Gary marvels.

And indeed, in those places, there are few opportunities for such casual yet intimate relations with cats not in your keeping.

Perhaps cats provide the great allure of the Hemingway House. Their polydactyl toes and literary connections creating the cornerstone of the museums reputation, such that the USDA has actually determined the residence to be a zoo, needing all the appropriate permits, inspections and fees. Imagine—a domestic cat zoo!

The house itself is underwhelming, one stop on the long literary journey of Earnest Hemingway, but the appearance of a stretched out ginger tabby across a cordoned off bed once belonging to the master of macho delighted the entire guided tour.

As our group strolled through the gardens, our guide dribbled cat treats from his pockets, leading miniature tigers from the scrubs And the crowd waited eagerly to view a cat drinking from the old urinal that Hemingway had claimed from his old haunt, Sloppy Joe’s, when the bar was moved. His second wife, Pauline, had transformed the embarrassing article by attaching Spanish tiles to the sides and setting an enormous clay urn atop the urinal, creating a fountain, which keeps the cats supplied with fresh running water and our guide assured us that if we were patient enough we might even get to watch a cat stand on its hind legs, resting its front paws high on the vase to drink the fresh water that slides down the sides.

At the Real Key West Gallery on Caroline Street, 2 orange tabbies have taken up residence in the tiny garden that separates the gallery from the street. They routinely entice passersby into the gallery. “Its my job to sell the art, but there is no question that the cats help bring in the buyers.” The curator laughs.

There are even resident cats in the courtyard of the Key Lime Shoppe. What could be more Key West than savoring a slice of Key Lime Pie with an authentic Key West Cat!

I ventured to Mallory Square in keen anticipation of seeing the infamous ‘player’ and cat trainer, Dominick, The Cat Man. Samantha had told me that he has a genuine, loving relationship with his cats—and that they jump through hoops of fire and perform other daring feats.

Disappointment! Dominick is on vacation in his native France and won't return for another week! In his stead, however, around the corner, I stumbled upon Dominick’s alter ego, ‘the cut rate catman’, a bumbling drunk who feeds a raggedy band of friendly ferals every day at sunset.

For a dollar thrown in the tip jar , he may coerce on of the cats to sit on a piece of cardboard and through broken teeth and an unsteady swagger, he’ll crow about his rigorous employment schedule and how he spends three to six hours a day tending these cats in spite of the other compelling demands on his time.

The precise nature of his relationship with these cats isn’t clear, though they do crowd around his feet anticipating supper.

Back at my lodging, The Blue Parrot Inn, which also boasts of resident cats on its website, the delightful Tortie named Truffles greets me on the front porch. She invites me to join her on the white wicker furniture and snuggle as we enjoy the breeze through the lush tropical garden together.

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