Are Bodega Cats Legal?

The All-Nite Images, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
The All-Nite Images, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

There are more than 10,000 bodegas—Latin American Spanish for "small neighborhood store" or grocery store—across New York City's five boroughs. In addition to selling food and goods, the stores are an important part of the community—not to mention a place where you can see, and pet, bodega cats.

These working felines roam the stores, greeting customers and lounging on countertops or nestling in shopping baskets. The internet adores them, devoting fan pages and Instagram accounts to the cats, whose sworn duty is to rid the shops of the vermin that can prompt city fines and spread disease.

Are they adorable? Yes. But are they legal? Not really.

A cat sits in the aisle of a bodega
Seth Werkheiser, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Cats fall under a prohibition upheld by the city's Department of Health and Hygiene as well as the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets that prevents any animal (other than fish or service dogs) from being on the premises where food and drinks are being sold: The felines could potentially shed hair and excrement around edible products, a clear violation of safety regulations. Fines for keeping a cat in a bodega or other food market can range from from $200 to $350, and for repeated violations can reach $2000.

But some argue that cats are far less of a health hazard than rats and a safer solution to the toxic chemicals used by exterminators. (Vermin killed by poison sometimes drop dead under freezers or in other narrow confines, stinking up the place before being located.) Even the presence of cats is thought to be a deterrent, with rats avoiding areas where they can smell a predator.

That's likely why there are few reports of bodegas being fined excessive amounts or shut down as a result of feline occupancy, despite the prohibition. Most often, even customers who are less than charmed by the furry sentinels will tolerate them. But because cats can leave behind fur, people with allergies may find shopping a sneeze-invoking experience. One Yelp user left the SK Deli Market in the East Village a one-star review because they harbored a cat, and they were immediately verbally assaulted by pro-bodega cat commenters. Subsequently, a pro-bodega cat contingent started a Change.org petition that logged 5870 signatures in an effort to legalize them, citing the city's Dining with Dogs law that permits canines in certain outdoor dining establishments.

There's clearly an emotional component to keeping the tradition of bodega cats alive, although science has recently called into question their actual efficacy in controlling rodent populations. Researchers at Fordham University looked at a recycling facility in Brooklyn that was overrun by both rats and cats. Through the use of surveillance and radio frequency ID tags clipped to the vermin, they found that cats generally paid little mind to the rats scurrying around. Out of 306 videos taken over a period of six months, the Fordham team recorded just two kills (and one unsuccessful attempt), barely making a dent in the cascade of rats in the buildings. (The rats did, however, tend to run the opposite way when encountering a cat.)

A cat sits on the counter of a bodega
The All-Nite Images, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Gregory Glass, a professor at the University of Florida, told Scientific American that contrary to popular belief, cats aren't trigger-happy when it comes to rats. Once the rodents mature, they're often too big and formidable to mess with. Glass called cats kept around for rat control a "placebo."

So, unfortunately, bodega cats might not quite live up to their reputations. But, as a photographer for Chewy.com pointed out after being dispatched to photograph bodega cats in their natural habitat, that might miss the point. The cats seemed to bring people together and lighten their mood. Coupled with their likely deterrence of rats, it’s a net positive—if you can stand the fur.

Why is Winnie the Pooh Called a Pooh?

iStock.com/CatLane
iStock.com/CatLane

Since A.A. Milne published the first official Winnie the Pooh story in 1926, the character has become beloved by children across many generations. Milne’s writing clearly struck a chord, and the character’s many subsequent TV and film adaptations have endeared him to an even wider audience.

But why is Winnie called a Pooh rather than a bear? Given that most children (and grown-ups, for that matter) have a different idea of what a Pooh is, how has the name stuck?

The answer lies back in the 1920s.

In fact, when first introduced by Milne, Winnie wasn’t even Winnie. Initially, he went by the name of Edward Bear, before changing to Winnie in time for that aforementioned official 1926 debut. The "Winnie" part of the name came from a visit to the London Zoo, where Milne saw a black bear who had been named after the city of Winnipeg, Canada.

As for Pooh? Well, originally Pooh was a swan, a different character entirely.

In the book When We Were Very Young (the same book that introduced Edward Bear), Milne wrote a poem, telling how Christopher Robin would feed the swan in the mornings.

He told how Christopher Robin had given the swan the name "Pooh," explaining that “this is a very fine name for a swan, because if you call him and he doesn’t come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying ‘Pooh!’ to show him how little you wanted him."

Milne indeed knew what he was doing by using such a word. The names "Winnie" and "Pooh" were soon brought together, and Winnie the Pooh was born. Milne still took a little time out to explain why Winnie was a Pooh, though.

As he would write in the first chapter of the first Winnie the Pooh book, “But his arms were so stiff ... they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think—but I am not sure—that that is why he is always called Pooh."

It's not the most convincing explanation, but it's a formal explanation nonetheless.

Not that the reasoning ultimately mattered too much. The name stuck, having never seen a focus group in its life. A much loved childhood character, with a vaguely funny name, would go on to superstardom. And even be honored with his own holiday, Winnie the Pooh Day, which occurs annually on January 18th.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Why is Winnie the Pooh Called a Pooh?

iStock.com/CatLane
iStock.com/CatLane

Since A.A. Milne published the first official Winnie the Pooh story in 1926, the character has become beloved by children across many generations. Milne’s writing clearly struck a chord, and the character’s many subsequent TV and film adaptations have endeared him to an even wider audience.

But why is Winnie called a Pooh rather than a bear? Given that most children (and grown-ups, for that matter) have a different idea of what a Pooh is, how has the name stuck?

The answer lies back in the 1920s.

In fact, when first introduced by Milne, Winnie wasn’t even Winnie. Initially, he went by the name of Edward Bear, before changing to Winnie in time for that aforementioned official 1926 debut. The "Winnie" part of the name came from a visit to the London Zoo, where Milne saw a black bear who had been named after the city of Winnipeg, Canada.

As for Pooh? Well, originally Pooh was a swan, a different character entirely.

In the book When We Were Very Young (the same book that introduced Edward Bear), Milne wrote a poem, telling how Christopher Robin would feed the swan in the mornings.

He told how Christopher Robin had given the swan the name "Pooh," explaining that “this is a very fine name for a swan, because if you call him and he doesn’t come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying ‘Pooh!’ to show him how little you wanted him."

Milne indeed knew what he was doing by using such a word. The names "Winnie" and "Pooh" were soon brought together, and Winnie the Pooh was born. Milne still took a little time out to explain why Winnie was a Pooh, though.

As he would write in the first chapter of the first Winnie the Pooh book, “But his arms were so stiff ... they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think—but I am not sure—that that is why he is always called Pooh."

It's not the most convincing explanation, but it's a formal explanation nonetheless.

Not that the reasoning ultimately mattered too much. The name stuck, having never seen a focus group in its life. A much loved childhood character, with a vaguely funny name, would go on to superstardom. And even be honored with his own holiday, Winnie the Pooh Day, which occurs annually on January 18th.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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