Which Do You Prefer? One Cat? Or A Thousand Rats?

The New York Department of Health And Mental Hygiene objects to deli owners keeping cats around to deter rats on the grounds that animals are not allowed into establishments where food and drink are served. That’s all well and good, judging by certain infamous news clips (above), but we’re pretty sure that a few well-tended cats prowling around is more hygienic than the alternative.

From the New York Times:

Luis Martinez, 42, has managed his brother’s grocery in East New York, Brooklyn, for two years. At first, despite weekly visits from an exterminator, the store’s inventory was ravaged constantly by nibbling vermin.

“Every night I had to put the bread in the freezer,” he said, pointing at shelves filled with bread and hamburger buns. “I was losing too much inventory. The chips and the Lipton soups all had holes in them.”

Then, last winter, a friend brought Mr. Martinez a marmalade kitten in need of a home. Mr. Martinez, who was skeptical of how one slinky kitten could fend off an army of hungry rats, set up a litter box in the back of the store, put down an old fleece jacket and named the kitten Junior.

Within two weeks, Mr. Martinez said, “a miracle.”

“Before you’d see giant rats running in off the streets into the store, but since Junior, no more,” he said.

Junior sometimes brings Mr. Martinez mouse carcasses as gifts, which he said bothers him less than the smell that permeates his store when the exterminator’s victims die and rot under a freezer.

In October, a health inspector fined Mr. Martinez $300 and warned him that if Junior was still there by the time of the next inspection he would be fined $2,000.

“He wants me to get rid of the cat, but the rats will take over if I do,” Mr. Martinez said. “I need the cat, and the cat needs a home.”

What do you think? Should shop kitties be legalized?

To Dismay of Inspectors, Prowling Cats Keep Rodents on the Run at City Delis [NYT]


Edit Your Comment

  1. LiC says:

    Yes, but the shop should put up a sign saying that there are cats on the premises. Folks with allergies shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves sneezing when they step inside.

    A bookstore here keeps cats around, they sleep on the chairs and love to be petted by the patrons.

  2. UpsetPanda says:

    If the cat is found to be in good health and is in proper nutrition (making it less susceptible to disease) AND the owners of the store or restaurant are in good standing with the health department (no cat hair or hairballs near food), then yes, it should be legalized.

    I’ve been to plenty of places where cats were around, not just bookstores and such, though the historic Hatch Show Print store in Nashville, Tenn. has a really fat cat.

  3. meeroom says:

    I’d rather have a few cat hairs in my food then toxic extermination chemicals.
    Of course, I have two Ragdolls and spend most of my life covered in hair anyway.

  4. Snakeophelia says:

    There’s a butcher shop near where I used to live in Philly’s Italian Market area that has ALWAYS had a cat in the place at night. The one they have now sleeps in the window and will rub himself against the window if you stand outside and “pet” him. I’ve certainly never seen any rats, mice, or even bugs in the place.

  5. hn333 says:

    I hate both

  6. mopar_man says:

    I like cats. I hate rats. CaffeinatedSquint has a good suggestion.

  7. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Cats pose a risk to pregnant women because of a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis: [www.cdc.gov]

  8. trollkiller says:

    Just slap a “Service Animal” vest on the cat… problem solved.

  9. JiminyChristmas says:

    Well, the ideal situation would be a restaurant that had neither rats nor cats.

    That said, I recall one situation where a friend tried glue traps, spring traps, poison, sealing any perceivable hole a mouse or rat could get in through, putting all of their food in sealed plastic bins…to no avail.

    About a week after they got a cat there were no mice to be found. Interestingly, the cat only caught one mouse, and I guess the rest got the message.

  10. Mr_Human says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie: Just to clarify: Only the rare cat infected with toxoplasmosis can infect people, and this is only during the first few weeks of infection, and only through the cat’s feces. Chances of a pregnant woman becoming infected by walking into a deli: nearly nil.

  11. rolla says:

    well, after NYC got its butt handed to them due to the rat infestation in taco bell a while back, i bet theyre sticking strictly to the books and if it says you cant have cats, then theyre gonna enforce it. They wont hesitate to close him down nowadays. Personally, i wouldnt want cats in a deli. They breed disease too. The deli owner is not using due diligence in finding out how these rats are entering his store. There’s got to be a hole somewhere.

  12. Ghede says:

    That is adorable. The solution is more adorable though, Awwwwww, lookit him, he caught a rat!

  13. deserthiker says:

    The health inspectors’ contention that animals will contaminate the food are a joke.

    Most people have animals in the area in their homes where food is prepared; they are called pets.

    If a cat in a store will deter a rat infestation then I am all for it. I do agree with a previous poster than a sign should be posted alerting shoppers to an animal on premises and then they can make the decision whether to shop there or not.

  14. m4ximusprim3 says:

    @rolla: Yeah, a big one: It’s called “the door”. TFA says rats were running in off the street.

    After visiting NYC, I can pretty much say that having a cat in a grocery store is the least of the city’s sanitation issues. I mean, they let the bums go in, right? You can’t tell me a pregnant woman wouldn’t get sick from being in close proximity with some of those bums.

  15. goodkitty says:

    Cats in the store: +1
    Cat hair on my sandwich: -2
    Rat feces in my Lipton soups: -10
    Reversing the mad dash towards complete homogenization and sterilization everywhere we go: priceless

  16. weggles90 says:

    Yes, it is a perfectly reasonable way to prevent rats. The cat should be kept out of the eating area, mind you, but I see no problem with it. I would eat in a store with one cat. As long as the patrons knew the cat was there, and that the cat was a nice one (didn’t bite/scratch random customers) any one who objects is just doing it to cause a fuss.

  17. Scooterx56 says:

    NYC won’t even let you have ferrets as pets!!!
    and as a previous poster said “There has to be a hole somewhere”

    Yes and when you seal one hole up the rats will make another, as rats can chew through concrete!! If they know where food is they can get to it.

    Honestly a Store cat or rat terrier would be a good solution. Heck that’s what they did BEFORE spraying with chemicals, and it worked!!!

    In all the apartments I have ever lived in, I have always had a cat and never had a rodent or bug problem, but all the non-cat or dog owning people where constantly having the exterminator come in.

    Post a sign and get over it. Poisons effect us all where a cat will only effect a small percentage of the population and in a area as big as a grocery store, one cat is nothing, there is more pet dander in the air for all the people with all there pets walking into the store, than from one cat.

  18. AnnieGetYourFun says:

    Bah. Cats and dogs should be allowed, as far as I’m concerned.

  19. Wow mother nature works better than chemicals? Or is the health dept trying to say spraying manmade poisons all over the place is better than a well cared for pet. As others have mentioned as long as the place is clean and the pets are cared for why must every rule be followed to inane levels?

  20. UpsetPanda says:

    Rats are the most resilient creatures, along with roaches. Both are horrible, and disgusting and carry all sorts of disease. I like cats, and I’d rather have them around as they’re nice animals and generally don’t carry disease. If people are allergic, then you warn them with a sign. If they really want to go to that business, they will go in anyway and avoid the cat, unless they’re deathly allergic.

  21. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    Hah, this reminds me of walking along the damrak in amsterdam and passing by the ben and jerrys ice cream shoppe. I saw this husky white cat roaming around. When I walked up to the door to get a closer look it tried to attack me. That little bastard probably kept that place pretty damn clear of rats. lol.

  22. sporks says:

    One nice kitty is better than even one hungry rat- I’m a cat AND a rat owner here. Oh. Wait. I had a cat sitting at the table while I was eating dinner.

  23. iamme99 says:

    Let the kitty chase the rats! Just hope he doesn’t meet up with one of the rat’s relatives:

  24. synergy says:

    Keep the cat off the counters and require regular visits to the vet and that will probably save 99.9% of the problems.

  25. TechnoDestructo says:


    I’m not sure the cats would like it, but maybe if businesses kept only short-haired cats, and bathed them regularly, it would be less of a problem.

    But then again, if people weren’t such pussies about germs and dirt, maybe they wouldn’t be allergic to everything and so susceptible to infection.

  26. PinkBox says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie: LOL, extremely unlikely.

    Pregnant women can even keep cats – they’re just told not to change the litterbox, or to use gloves and be careful when doing so.

  27. dharma261 says:

    I don’t have a problem with it. They should just say that there is a cat on the premise letting them know there is a cat and it is there to protect food and keep rats and mice out. I live in a rural area and cats definitely keep the mice away.

  28. randombob says:

    The presence of a cat is enough to ward off most mice. They JUST did a medical study I think in Japan whereby they genetically modified a mouse to “turn off” certain functions of their smell.

    As it turns out, mouse are genetically predispositioned to exhibit uncontrollable fear at the mere SMELL of a cat.

    So a cat catches one or two, the rest will just flee because they smell it.

  29. oogly says:

    My parents had a bakery and we had rats until we got a cat. Rats came back when the health department said we can not keep the cat.

  30. PracticalMagic says:

    Toxoplasmosis is only a problem with pregnant women and their fetus IF they come into contact with the cats feces. Thus, they can still have a cat, just not change the litter box.

  31. forgottenpassword says:

    For one thing … I dont want cat hair in my food.

    Another…. stickytraps are a godsend against rodents & rats. Yeah yeah yeah, they are “inhumane”, but they get the job done extremely well. The only distastefull thing is you have to pick them up & either kill them yourself, or just toss them in the dumpster alive.

    To tell you the truth…. I give no mercy for disease-spreading vermin that invade my living/working spaces. I could care less if they die a horrible death after they have invaded where I live or work. And yes… I KNOW I am going to catch hell for my frank stance, but I grew up on a farm where we had to deal with vermin on a regular basis (inside & outside).

    Another great trap that works extremely well are the kwick katch traps. [www.professionalequipment.com] . You just have to remember to place them along the side of a wall where mice run & to check it daily (because you dont want to be cleaning out a long-forgotten mouse corpse out of it). ANd for all those with delicate sensibilites concerning “inhumane” traps…. it catches them live. You can set them free or kill them yourself (I’ve had to drown them… seemed the easiest way).

  32. iamme99 says:

    I’ve had to drown them… seemed the easiest way

    Shame to throw out good protein. Ever watch Man vs. Wild? Wonder if they would taste like buffalo wings when cooked? :)

  33. KivaWolf says:

    Hmm.. Deja Vu anyone?

  34. rmuser says:

    @forgottenpassword: One problem with catch-and-release traps is that mice can find their way back to a known food source from a distance of over a kilometer. So yes, it would be better to drown them.

  35. Bunklung says:

    I love cats (dogs too), but VERY allergic to them. I would avoid establishments that had cats, just as I avoid friends and families houses.

    Side note: If I had a penny for every time someone said their dog had HAIR and not FUR and that “I would be fine”…


  36. jamar0303 says:

    There’s also the worry that your cat will do this.

  37. faust1200 says:

    I think a bird of prey would be totally cool. In fact I would volunteer to be The Falconer!

  38. RvLeshrac says:


    Far, far more disgusting than keeping a cat around a food-prep area.

    What would you rather have in your restaurant? Rat corpses which can spawn airborne pathogens, or living cats which, while they can spread cat-hair to the food, are cleaner than the inside of your mouth anyway?

    I think people overestimate the cleanliness of the human mouth. Or hands, for that matter. In the years I worked at Burger King and Schlotzsky’s, I almost never saw anyone wash their hands after paying for their food.

    Yet they’ll bitch and moan about someone not wearing gloves. Who has cleaner hands? The foodservice worker who has to wash them for 30 seconds and sanitize them before going near the food, or the customer who opens the door, pays in cash, stands around tapping the counter, and then licks his/her fingers while eating?

  39. MotherFury says:

    Think about it for a second – which would you rather purchase food from?

    A shop with a cat that you can see & know is there to do a job… or a shop with no cat and rodents you can’t see (unless you come by at night when the lights are off)?

    Knowing that the health department is understaffed and overworked, I’ll put my trust in a cat rather than a piece of paper any day.

  40. LeopardSeal says:

    @Bunklung: Firstly, you’re probably allergic to the dander, not the hair. Second, are you allergic to rat hair and feces? Lastly, is one cat worse than a hundred rats? I’ll take the cat, thank you.

  41. no.no.notorious says:

    cats work harder than any human i know

  42. nursetim says:

    I heard about a theory about cats a while ago that stated that man didn’t domesticate cats, but the cats started hanging out with people when humans became agrarian. The theory said that because stores of grain attracted vermin, the cats figured out that instead of hunting for their food, they instead became pets and had a ready supply of food. Explains the saying that dogs have masters and cats have staff.

  43. LucyInTheSky says:


    i LOVE shop kitties. a nicely behaved cat is a sign of a good shop. shop dogs are nice too.

  44. Lee Jones says:

    If the shop indicates the presence of a cat before you order your food, I think shop cats are a good solution to any rat problem. The litter box would have to be cleaned regularly and treated as a hazard, but that pales in comparison to rats going everywhere.

  45. MrEvil says:

    I’d much rather a shop keeper keep a rat-catching animal around his property than have the place overrun with rats and the constant smell of rotting rat carcasses in the air. Not to mention the potential for cross contamination of exterminator’s chemicals.

    The problem with rats in a city as large and as old as NY is that even though you poison the rats once, they’ll just come right back in once the poison wears off. During the dark ages everyone thought cats were evil and so millions of housecats were exterminated. All that did was give rise to rat populations and then the plague.

    Seriously, what’s worse, a rat that carries a HOST of nasty illnesses with its fleas. Or a domestic pet that has vaccinations, regular vet checkups, and is flea free? Oh, and you do have a degree of control over a domestic pet’s behavior.

  46. Rabbigrrl says:

    He could always switch to ferrets. They are more effective anyway. And in my experience, don’t cause allergy attacks.

  47. nardo218 says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie: Only if you clean out hte litter box with your bare hands and then lick your fingers.

  48. cmdr.sass says:

    It is plainly obvious that cats are the best solution to the rat problems. This is exact reason why cats were domesticated in the first place.

  49. Rusted says:

    @LiC: Agree on cat signs. Cats are nice to have but a good friend is allergic. @MrEvil: No, not really, a cat is a cat. Control, in your dreams….

  50. RvLeshrac says:


    Ferrets are filthy, and wild animals to boot. You cannot domesticate them, and they will bite anything that comes within reach.

  51. Bunklung says:

    @onrampofframp: Yeah, that’s what I said. Fur and hair != allergies.