Rabies is a fatal disease, easily prevented by vaccination. Governments want to protect the health of their citizens and thus require cats to be vaccinated against rabies. New York City statute regulates the feeding of cats. Here, it is illegal to withhold food and water from any animal. But if stray cat feeding is done in a manner that creates a public health hazard or nuisance, New Yorkers may be breaking the law. Again, the government is worried about human health. So why are there currently two high profile legal cases about cat care?
For any cat lover who has visited Rome, Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in Largo Argentina was probably a highlight of the trip. The site of Julius Caesar’s murder by Brutus in 44 BC and a cat sanctuary since 1929 AD, these underground ruins are home to approximately 150-160 cats. The “gattare,” or cat caretakers, raise money and provide food, water, and basic healthcare for these cats.
Recently, the sanctuary has come under fire for illegally building on ancient Roman ruins. Government officials in charge of Italy’s archeological treasures want the cats out, but the Mayor of Rome and his cat, Certisino, announced they are “on the side of the cats of Rome. Anyone who touches them will be in trouble.” The outcome of this stalemate remains to be determined.
The Hemingway cats
A little closer to home, the multi-toed Hemingway cats of Key West, Fla. have come under the scrutiny of an agency of the U.S. government. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates animals on exhibition, such as those owned by circuses and zoos. Although the Hemingway cats have lived in Key West since 1931, nearly as long as the cats of Torre Argentina have lived in their archeological site, the USDA has reclassified them and threatened the Hemingway Museum with confiscation of the 44 descendants of the original Hemingway cat if they do not comply with USDA regulations. The reclassification stems from the fact that these cats affect interstate commerce because they are a tourist attraction and the Hemingway Museum collects a fee for visitors to enter the Museum and see the cats.
Everyone agrees, cats will be cats
Robert Siegel of NPR, who clearly understands cats, writes about the Hemingway cats, “As for the cats, they’re not commenting. We have our doubts, though, that they’ll do what the law says. They’re cats.”
Umberto Broccoli, Rome’s superintendent of culture, expressed a similar sentiment when he said of the Largo Argentina cats, “They don’t read bans. They will return to Largo Argentina whether the shelter is there or not, and gattare and tourists will continue to throw food at them. The situation is really not so simple.”
Only time will tell how these catfights will be resolved.