Should cats be allowed to control rats in N.Y. deli’s?

Across New York City, the owners of delis and bodegas say, in this morning’s N.Y. Times, they cannot do without their cats, tireless and enthusiastic hunters of unwanted vermin, that typically do a far better job than exterminators and poisons.

Urszula Jawor, 49, the manager of a corner store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said of her cat that,

“In the morning she is lazy, it is her nap time. But in the afternoon she is busy. She spends hours stalking the mice and the rats.”

The story says that to store owners, the services of cats are indispensable in a city where the rodent problem is serious enough to be documented in a still popular two-minute video clip on YouTube from late February (youtube.com/watch?v=su0U37w2tws) of rats running amok in a KFC/Taco Bell in Greenwich Village.

Store-dwelling cats are so common that there is a Web site, workingclasscats.com, dedicated to telling their tales.

But, the story notes that the city’s health code and state law forbid animals in places where food or beverages are sold for human consumption. Fines range from $300 for a first offense to $2,000 or higher for subsequent offenses.

Robert M. Corrigan, a rodentologist and research scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said,

"Any animal around food presents a food contamination threat. And so that means anything from animal pieces and parts to hair and excrement could end up in food, and that alone, of course, is a violation of the health code."

Mr. Corrigan was cited as conceding that some studies have shown that the smell of cats in an enclosed area will keep mice away, but he does not endorse cats as a form of pest control because, he explained, the bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and nematodes carried by rats may infect humans by secondary transfer through a cat.

Still, many store owners keep cats despite the law, mainly because other options have failed and the fine for rodent feces is also $300.

José Fernández, the president of the Bodega Association of the United States, said,

"It’s hard for bodega owners because they’re not supposed to have a cat, but they’re also not supposed to have rats."