A beloved bodega cat is back where he belongs a week after a thief snatched him from the store.
The cat, Boka, is actually a kitten. Majeed Albahri, owner of Green Olives Deli in Brooklyn, adopted the little guy in January and in seven months the all-gray feline has become a familiar face in the neighborhood, where people are used to seeing him sitting on Albahri’s shoulder as he works the register, or napping on the nearest convenient pile of newspapers.
Boka “brings life to the store,” Albahri said, noting people stop by just to give Boka a head scratch.
But on July 29 a guy “skulking around” outside the store took a liking to the neighborhood mascot and swooped him up. Albahri didn’t know what happened until he checked the store’s surveillance feeds and saw the thief in action.
Boka’s abduction mobilized an entire neighborhood, generated headlines in the New York papers, segments on local TV news and posts on neighborhood blogs. The thief must have felt the heat, because he contacted the deli through an intermediary and returned Boka to Albahri safe and sound.
On Aug. 5, exactly a week since Park Slope’s favorite feline was filched, Albahri posted online to share the good news.
“Best news I’ve heard all week,” one neighbor wrote, while another one posted: “Yes Boka! We missed you!”
Others urged Albahri to invest in some AirTags, the Apple-made locators that were designed for keys, phones and other easy-to-lose items, but have been repurposed by some as pet trackers.
For those unfamiliar with city life, particularly in New York, bodegas (Spanish for wine cellar or warehouse) are corner stores that stock grocery staples, snacks, and usually some sort of combination deli/salad bar. They also sell everything you’d find in a convenience store, from newspapers, magazines and gum to cigarettes and cigars.
Because there are very few grocery stores in New York, and because suburban-style grocery shopping isn’t an option for millions of people who don’t own cars, bodegas are essential in neighborhoods that would otherwise be “food deserts.” (Some sociologists consider such neighborhoods food deserts anyway, especially if the local stores don’t offer fresh produce, dairy and meat. Most bodegas do.)
Bodega cats occupy a legally precarious but widely loved position in the fabric of New York. They’re pets, but they also have primal jobs that call back to the original reason humans and felines began their partnership thousands of years ago: rodent control.
Technically they’re illegal according to the city’s Department of Health, but the New York Times estimates there are more than 10,000 bodega cats across all five boroughs. In a city that produces viral videos of rats dragging full slices of pizza down subway stairs, and rodents run rampant at night, bodega owners are faced with two choices: Accept the rodents and pay a fine, or get a cat and pay a fine, but have their stores free of rodents.
With the fines for rodent infestations and cats both around $300, bodega proprietors say the choice is easy, and cats have become ubiquitous. New Yorkers have created petitions to get the Department of Health to relax the rules on bodega cats, with no luck so far.