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Thursday, March 21, 2013
“Chicken Little was in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head. It scared her so much she trembled all over. She shook so hard, half her feathers fell out.” This is the first line from the famous childhood tale “The Story of Chicken Little.” Chicken Little thought “the sky is falling!”
It appears Chicken Little may now live in our nation’s capital. We are told with sequestration the sky is truly falling, and the end of the world as we know it is soon to follow.
Perhaps there is some truth in this doomsday scenario. The U.S. Department of Agriculture may have to furlough meat inspection personnel. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tells us this would lead to a “nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants during a furlough of inspection personnel.”
Such organizations as the Poultry Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are concerned, according to Vilsack, that “farmers raising livestock and poultry would have nowhere to send their animals and would have to shoulder substantial losses . . . . And, most alarming, American consumers could face their first widespread shortage of meat, poultry and egg products in generations.”
Perhaps the sky really is falling. Or could it be that the USDA just needs to do a better job of allocating their resources? This brings us to the case of the six-toed cat.
Author Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West, Fla. His private home has been turned into a museum, which has between 250,000 and 275,000 visitors a year.
In 1935, a friend gave Hemingway a white six-toed (polydactyl) cat called Snowball. Today many of the 40 to 50 cats that live on the grounds are Snowball’s descendants. The cats are allowed to roam on the museum’s fenced one-acre grounds. The Hemingway Home website says that the cats even have a corporate sponsor, Pfizer, which provides free medicine for them. Most are spayed or neutered to keep the number of Snowball’s descendants from snowballing.
In 2003, a complaint was lodged with the agriculture department by someone who alleged that the cats were not being properly cared for. One story is that a neighbor felt that one of the Hemingway cats — Ivan — was getting, in her words, too “macho” with the street cats she fed a couple doors down.
The result, a 10-year-old court battle. Government inspectors determined that if the museum wanted to keep the cats “on display,” it needed to obtain a licence under the federal Animal Welfare Act. The owners of the museum must: “obtain an exhibitor’s license; contain and cage the cats in individual shelters at night, or alternatively, construct a higher fence or an electric wire atop the existing brick wall, or alternatively, hire a night watchman to monitor the cats; tag each cat for identification purposes; construct additional elevated resting surfaces for the cats within their existing enclosures; and pay fines for the museum’s non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.”
In 2005, the department sent People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to assess the situation; the group’s investigator concluded: “What I found was a bunch of fat, happy and relaxed cats. God save the cats.”
In 2008, five years into the court battle, the museum reached a settlement with the department that granted an exhibitor’s license so long as it extended the height of the fence, added a few special bowls designed to drown bugs and upgraded its cat shelters.
The museum still feared it would be subject to any changes in regulation. Its lawyer, Cara Higgin, said, “We are now at the whim of the agency.” So in 2009, the museum sued to challenge the federal government’s assertion of jurisdiction over its cats under the Commerce Clause. However, U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez of Miami ruled in favor of the government in 2012, and the museum appealed.
On Dec. 7, 2012, the 11th Circuit also ruled in favor of the federal government’s authority to regulate the museum as an “animal exhibitor” under the federal Animal Welfare Act.
The appellate court agreed that “the museum has always kept, fed and provided weekly veterinary care for the Hemingway cats.” In their ruling, the three judges even injected a dose of understanding.
“We appreciate the museum’s somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration,” the ruling states. “Nevertheless, it is not the court’s role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations.”
One can only imagine the money and time the USDA has spent in the last 10 years. So, Chicken Little, perhaps the sky is falling, but not as a result of sequestration. Our current dilemma is the result of decades of the misuse and waste of our tax dollars.
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