A bodega cat is a feline that inhabits, you guessed it, a bodega. It's what New Yorkers call their convenience stores or delis.
And these furballs aren't just judging the buyers and their purchasing choices. No, no, they also provide comfort to workers after they endure clients from hell and can even carry out pest control missions, managing or preventing rodent infestations.
Bodega Cats is a social media project dedicated entirely to celebrating these hard-working kitties. The premise is simple: people spot a bodega cat in its natural habitat, they snap a photo of it and submit it to the people running the show. They select the best ones and share them with their followers. The result, on the other hand, is glorious: a refined collection of adorable cat pics.
"Since I moved to NYC, I’ve been familiar with cats in our local corner stores (bodegas) but it wasn’t until 2012 when I was out late one evening and stumbled my way into a bodega seeing a cat and making a late-night post to my Instagram feed that I came up with the idea for the project," Rob Hitt, the man behind Bodega Cats, told Bored Panda. "My friends enjoyed the photos of the cats I posted more than the photos of me! At that point, I decided to start the Bodega Cats accounts in hopes of giving people a moment of positivity and smile throughout their day."
"Now, I’d say we get about 75-100 submissions a week," Hitt said. "I really don’t think too much about picking the photos other than if they invoke some sort emotion in me. It never hurts to select a kitten, a cat on top of a bag potato chips, or one protecting a nice warm ATM machine."
Interestingly, bodega cats are technically illegal. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene considers them a "general deficiency", raising concerns about the risk they pose for food contamination. Fines range from $300 for the first offense to $2,000 and higher for subsequent offenses.
“Any animal around food presents a food contamination threat,” Robert M. Corrigan, a rodentologist and research scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told The New York Times. “And so that means anything from animal pieces and parts to hair and excrement could end up in food, and that alone, of course, is a violation of the health code.”
However, many shop owners keep cats in spite of the law because they are seen as preferable to rodent infestations, which also carry a fine.
“In the morning she is lazy, it is her nap time,” Urszula Jawor, 49, a deli manager and a Polish immigrant described her feline employee. “But in the afternoon she is busy. She spends hours stalking the mice and the rats.”
Mr. Corrigan agreed that some studies have shown that even the smell of cats in an enclosed area can keep mice away. But he nonetheless believes this isn't an acceptable form of pest control because the bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and nematodes carried by rats may infect humans by secondary transfer through a cat.
Andre Duran, one of the owners of a corner store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, said he had kept a cat for about six years and had never been fined. “That’s Oreo,” he said, lifting a tiny black cat with white paws. “No one’s ever complained about cat hair in their sandwiches, and if she weren’t here, you bet there’d be bigger problems than hair.”
Rob Hitt thinks one of the reasons why people like Bodega Cats is because they love stumbling upon something familiar in a totally unfamiliar way. "It evokes a positive emotion," he said. "If you have a cat and then see one out, it brings back that warm feeling of home. I also feel people are excited because they know to date we've been able to utilize the money from the sales in our webstore towards helping organizations that help the feral, community, or bodega cat population. We’ve also been able to find other effective ways of helping by donating social posts (tweets, stories, feed posts, etc) which can help raise awareness for positive organizations."
For instance, Bodega Cats work with the organization Flatbush Cats who are a 501(c)(3), focused on reducing the outdoor cat population in Brooklyn. They support the community with TNR (trap, neuter, return), rescue work, adoption, and free or low cost cat spay/neuter for low income residents.