In 1943 Ernest Hemingway, living in Cuba with his third wife and eleven cats, wrote to his first wife:
"One cat just leads to another. . . . The place is so damned big it doesn't really seem as though there were many cats until you see them all moving like a mass migration at feeding time. . . ."
He always took great pleasure in writing to his family about his cats and how they were getting along. Family and pets played an important role in Hemingway's life, revealing a softer side to his character than is usually portrayed by the macho image of the hunter and fisherman. His pets were mostly cats - the number at Finca Vigia, his Cuban home, at one time swelling to fifty-seven. He called the cats "purr factories" and "love sponges" who soaked up love in return for comfort and companionship.
It is impossible to write about Hemingway's cats without also telling the story of his family life, particularly the women he loved. From the many cats he grew up with at his childhood homes in Oak Park, Illinois and Walloon Lake, Michigan, to his last cat, Big Boy Peterson, in Ketchum, Idaho, Hemingway sought the companionship of cats. Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, had Feather Kcat in Toronto and the gentle F. Puss in Paris, who, according to Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, served as babysitter for his first son. Hemingway settled into his home in Key West with Pauline, his second wife, and a good many six-toed cats from next-door - the descendants of whom still roam the house and grounds on Whitehead Street. Of Hemingway's four wives, only Pauline, who was not a cat fancier, did not acquire one of his fond nicknames: Kat, Kath, Cat, Feather Kitty, Katherine Cat, Kitten, or Kittner.
It was his third wife, Martha, who convinced Hemingway to buy Finca Vigia, the Cuban farm with
many buildings - and many stray cats. There Hemingway brought in the elegant Persian Princessa, the adopted strays Willie and Dillinger (aka Boise and Brother), and the Angora Good Will. From the mating of Princessa and Boise, many litters ensued.
Dogs also found their way into Hemingway's homes, beginning with Wax Puppy, whom he got for Hadley when they were first in Paris. In Cuba he adopted several small mixed-breed dogs with curled tails. One in particular, Negrita, stole his heart. Mary, his fourth wife, loved the animals at the Finca, and it was on a trip to Idaho with Mary that they acquired Black Dog, a springer spaniel who went back to Cuba with them to join the sea of cats and dogs.
All his life Ernest Hemingway surrounded himself with cats and dogs and sought their comfort during times of loneliness and stress. They appear in many of his writings, particularly in A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, The Garden of Eden, and True at First Light - all written late in his life and as close toautobiography as he came.