It was a tuft of orange hair poking out from the zipper of a carry-on suitcase that first alerted a TSA agent that something weird was going on.
The agent, who was processing a traveler departing from New York’s JFK airport on Tuesday morning, then consulted an x-ray scan, confirming the suitcase contained some unusual cargo — a ginger tabby cat tucked in among toiletries, snug and napping comfortably in the enclosed space.
As for the traveler, the cat didn’t belong to him, nor was he aware kitty had climbed inside. It turned out he had been a house guest of friends living in Brooklyn, and the cat named Smells had slipped into the luggage before he left for home, for what is a suitcase if not just another box?
The TSA confirmed the story with the cat’s owner before letting the traveler board his Florida-bound flight.
“An officer called and asked if I wanted to press charges” said Alix, Smells’ 37-year-old human. “He wanted to know if there was any reason [the passenger] was trying to steal my cat and go to Florida.”
After Alix assured the TSA agent that Smells “really likes to check out boxes” and definitely would have climbed in on his own, she hired a driver to retrieve the kitty, who was unperturbed by the adventure.
“I was worried he’d be freaked out but he wasn’t even meowing on the way back,” Alix told the New York Post. “I went to give him some extra treats and he acted like nothing had happened.”
As for the TSA — which often deals with more serious finds like guns and drugs secreted into passengers’ luggage — the saga of Smells was a welcome change that gave them a good story and some laughs.
“On the bright side,” TSA spokesman Lisa Farbstein wrote on Twitter, “the cat’s out of the bag and safely back home.”
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.
A woman involved in a brutal attack that led to the death of a well-known cat — and emergency surgery for one of his owners — faces assault charges after she was identified and arrested, the NYPD said.
Evelyn Serrano, 42, was caught on video tackling and beating Chanan Aksornnan, a 34-year-old woman who had been walking her cat, Ponzu, on a lead in Brooklyn’s McCarren park.
Aksornnan suffered minor injuries, her boyfriend suffered a broken nose and had to undergo emergency surgery, and Ponzu lost his life in the chain of events that lead to the beat-down.
Bystanders say the incident began when a 12-year-old boy, who may be related to Serrano, either tripped over or tugged on the lead Aksornnan was using to walk Ponzu. The three-year-old cat was launched in the air and hit the ground hard, losing all his claws. He died of a heart attack shortly after a horrified Aksornnan scooped him up in her arms.
Serrano and her alleged accomplices showed “no remorse,” Aksornnan told Brooklyn news site Greenpointers, and acted as if Aksornnan was being unreasonable by being upset about the cat.
“That’s what you get for walking your —ing cat, b—,” a woman with Serrano said.
When Aksornnan referred to Ponzu as her “child,” the women mocked her, yelling “That’s why you got no kids.”
Video shows Serrano — who at 5’7″ and 200 pounds is considerably larger than Aksornnan — launch herself at the grieving victim and tackle her to the ground.
Two other women with Serrano joined in, kicking and punching the victim while Serrano had her pinned down, video shows.
One of those women, identified as Julie Yvette Rodriguez, mean-mugs a bystander who was recording the incident, yelling “B–, I’ll f– you up” toward the end of the video.
“English please ching ching,” she allegedly wrote, according to a screenshot shared on Twitter, before following it up with a meme of a stereotypical Asian man.
The worst take on the incident goes to Jezebel’s Megan Reynolds, who imagined a bizarre economic disparity justification for the attack, noting the “park is full of picnicking gentrifiers.” Serrano and her cohort, Reynolds wrote, were seemingly incensed “about the fact that [Ponzu] was a cat on a leash, walking as if he owned the place.”
“Ponzu was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and something about the temerity of walking an Instagram-influencer cat on a leash was a larger symbol of economic disparity,” Reynolds wrote.
While she does acknowledge that she “can’t imagine a circumstance where I’d be so upset about it that I’d provoke an attack,” she alternately proposes the attack could have been prompted by “collective pandemic fatigue, shared by all of us in different ways, that manifested in violence and ended in tragedy.”
While the incident brought out a lot of ugliness, it also brought at least three communities together to console the victims and seek justice — neighbors and friends of the victim, the Asian-American community in Brooklyn, and local restaurant owners.
Aksornnan, who owns a Brooklyn restaurant called Baoburg and is known locally as Chef Bao Bao, received an outpouring of support from customers, neighbors and fellow restaurant owners. Owners of nearby Chinese and Japanese restaurants lent their support, and donors raised more than $65,000.
The money will be used for “the legal fight that is ahead of us,” according to the GoFundMe, as well as a legislative push for more severe animal abuse laws. In New York, pets are considered property and harming an animal results in — at most — a misdemeanor under the state’s Agriculture and Markets law.
A famous cat is dead and his owners are looking for justice after a melee at a Brooklyn park on April 4.
Chanan Aksornnan, 34, was walking her cat Ponzu in Brooklyn’s McCarren park when a boy around 12 years old set off a chain of events that lead to the cat’s death and a subsequent melee that saw Aksornnan and her boyfriend jumped by the boy’s family.
Some reports say the boy “intentionally pulled on the leash,” while others say he tripped over Ponzu’s lead with such force that the famous feline was launched into the air. A Facebook post to a group called #JusticeForPonzu claims the boy “came from nowhere, dragged the leash using his body.”
What the accounts do agree on is three-year-old Ponzo hit the ground hard and lost all his claws. Aksornnan ran and scooped Ponzu up, but the terrified cat had a heart attack and died in her arms.
“The family not only did not offer any apology nor remorse,” Chanan said. “They immediately began a verbal abuse which escalated into a physical assault. I got punched and kicked by three women.” Meanwhile, Chanan’s boyfriend was punched, his nose and glasses broke, and he required emergency surgery the following day.
The version portrayed by the #JusticeForPonzu Facebooker described the family as even more combative, with one of the boy’s relatives yelling “That’s what you get for walking your —ing cat, b—.”
It’s not clear what happened next — and it looks like police are still trying to sort that out — but a video posted to Reddit shows Aksornnan on the ground, with a much larger woman on top of her and another attacking her from the side while bystanders tried to pry them off the victim.
In the video, a person who appears to be Aksornnan is swarmed by a group of screaming women, who can be heard telling her, “That’s why you got no kids.”
One of the bystanders who tried to help, a 50-year-old man, was punched in the face for his efforts, suffering a cut on his nose as a result as the attacker pushed her way out of the crowd and ran.
In a brief statement, the NYPD said they were looking for “an unknown Hispanic female,” about 5’7″ and 200 pounds.
Several social media posts are portraying the incident as an anti-Asian hate crime and complained that police haven’t made progress for more than two weeks despite witnesses and at least one recording of the assault. The police have remained tight-lipped and haven’t said much besides confirming they’re actively investigating, looking for the attacker and hoping to speak with more witnesses.
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.