Bodega Cat


A bodega [boh-dey-guh] cat is a type of working cat that inhabits a bodega, which in New York City English refers to a convenience store or deli. Much like farm cats, library cats, and ship cats, a bodega cat is typically a mixed breed cat kept as a form of biological pest control to manage or prevent rodent infestations.

A bodega cat may be a domesticated cat that is kept by the bodega owner, or a semi-feral cat that the bodega owner attracts to the store through regular feeding. Public health departments typically prohibit bodega cats under food codes that ban live animals from establishments where consumable goods are sold.

The term is derived from ‘bodega,’ a Spanish word that translates to ‘storeroom’ or ‘wine cellar,’ which is used in New York City to refer to a convenience store that sells groceries, deli meats, sandwiches, soft drinks, and other general staples. The term is also commonly used in other American cities with substantial Latino populations.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene considers bodega cats a ‘general deficiency,’ citing concerns over the potential they pose for food contamination. Under Chapter 23 of the Food Service Establishment Violation Penalty Schedule, establishments selling food that keep live animals that are not service animals or fish kept in tanks are subject to a fine ranging from $200 to $350. Despite this, cats remain a ubiquitous presence at many of the more than 10,000 bodegas across New York City; The New York Times reports that many bodega owners keep cats in spite of the law because they are seen as preferable to rodent infestations, which also carry a fine of $300.

Bodega cats are a part of internet culture, as well as New York City culture. Multiple blogs and social media accounts are devoted to chronicling photographs of bodega cats across the city. In 2019, a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch starring John Mulaney parodied the musical ‘Cats’ using a bodega cat. That same year, a bodega cat at 71 Fresh Deli and Grocery in Kips Bay, Manhattan, was stolen from the store; the cat’s theft was widely covered in New York City media. In 2022, two New York City comedians, Sam Morril and Mark Normand, premiered on their ‘We Might Be Drunk’ podcast their own brand of whiskey dubbed Bodega Cat.


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