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.

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.)

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.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

Face masks are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind, designers and manufacturers have answered the call by providing options that are tailored for different lifestyles and fashion tastes. Almost every mask below is on sale, so you can find one that fits your needs without overspending.

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Home Essentials

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The breathable, stretchy fabric in these 3D masks makes them a comfortable option for daily use.

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This cotton mask pack is washable and comfortable. Use the two as a matching set with your best friend or significant other, or keep the spare for laundry day.

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RipleyRader

Don’t let masks get in the way of staying active. These double-layer cotton masks are breathable but still protect against those airborne particles.

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Avoid the accidental nose-out look with this cotton mask that stays snug to your face.

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With this 12-pack of protective masks, you can keep a few back-ups in your car and hand the rest out to friends and family who need them.

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This dust-proof mask can filter out 95 percent of germs and other particles, making it a great option for anyone working around smoke and debris all day, or even if you're just outside mowing the lawn.

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8. Reusable Fun Face Cover / Neck Gaiter (Flamingo); $20

Designer Face Covers

Channel some tropical energy with this flamingo fabric neck gaiter. The style of this covering resembles a bandana, which could save your ears and head from soreness from elastic loops. Other designs include a Bauhaus-inspired mask and this retro look.

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Eargasm Earplugs

This seamless gaiter-style mask can be worn properly for protection and fashioned up into a headband once you're in the car or a safe space. Plus, having your hair out of your face will help you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth before washing your hands.

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This mask will definitely come in handy once winter rolls around. It features a fleece neck, face, and ear covering to keep your mask secure and your face warm.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Why Do We Say ‘Spill the Beans’?

This is a Greek tragedy.
This is a Greek tragedy.
anthony_taylor/iStock via Getty Images

Though superfans of The Office may claim otherwise, the phrase spill the beans did not originate when Kevin Malone dropped a massive bucket of chili at work during episode 26 of season five. In fact, people supposedly started talking about spilling the beans more than 2000 years ago.

According to Bloomsbury International, one voting method in ancient Greece involved (uncooked) beans. If you were voting yes on a certain matter, you’d place a white bean in the jar; if you were voting no, you’d use your black bean. The jar wasn’t transparent, and since the votes were meant to be kept secret until the final tally, someone who accidentally knocked it over mid-vote was literally spilling the beans—and figuratively spilling the beans about the results.

While we don’t know for sure that the phrase spill the beans really does date all the way back to ancient times, we do know that people have used the word spill to mean “divulge” at least since the 16th century. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest known reference of it is from a letter written by Spanish chronicler Antonio de Guevara sometime before his death in 1545 (the word spill appears in Edward Hellowes’s 1577 translation of the letter).

Writers started to pair spill with beans during the 20th century. The first known mention is from Thomas K. Holmes’s 1919 novel The Man From Tall Timber: “‘Mother certainly has spilled the beans!’ thought Stafford in vast amusement.”

In short, it’s still a mystery why people decided that beans were an ideal food to describe spilling secrets. As for whether you’re imagining hard, raw beans like the Greeks used or the tender, seasoned beans from Kevin Malone’s ill-fated chili, we’ll leave that up to you.

[h/t Bloomsbury International]