Kitten season has descended upon New York City, flooding local shelters with more tiny fuzzfeet than they could possibly accommodate: Anyone looking to adopt a cat baby, any age feline really, will face an overwhelming number of options all summer long. There is really no need, then, to go kidnapping your corner store's best employee, and yet, here we are: With a beloved bodega cat missing from her Kips Bay home, and a "bereft" community clamoring for her return.
According to Ted Oehmke, manager of New York Deli and Grocery at 71 Lexington Avenue, the store's resident tabby—Lexi, a friendly and curious girl around two years old—disappeared on Friday morning, after venturing outside and saying hello to a passing pedestrian. Oehmke said she slipped out around 7:20 a.m., and at first, her absence didn't strike anyone as extraordinary: "She's a cat," he emphasized. "She'll disappear for hours and a time and go into strange places where we can't find her." But "by Saturday we knew there was a problem," Oehmke said, because Lexi "never disappears for a whole day."
Distressed, workers went back and checked security camera footage, where they saw Lexi exit the bodega and walk a few steps down the sidewalk (fast-forward to the 15-second marker to see it). Then, a man (captured on camera wearing dark jeans, a tan jacket, and red sneakers) stopped to sit with her, and appeared to tuck something—or someone—into his coat when he got up and walked away. In the video, you can see him approach around the 24-second marker, and then around 1:30, you can see him begin to mess with his jacket before getting up and walking away.
Once they realized Lexi may have been catnapped, employees put up missing signs and will ask no questions of the person who returns Lexi: they just want her back. "This was my first pet," store owner Anik Ahmed told the NY Times. "That's more heartbreaking than anything."
According to Oehmke, Lexi had accrued a formidable fan base during her time in the shop, serving as a sort of surrogate cat for neighbors without pets of their own, and making friends of repeat customers. "She's really well-known and people come in every day to see her," he explained.
"A lot of people are upset because they have an emotional attachment with this cat," Oehmke continued, adding that a few people cried upon learning of Lexi's apparent abduction. "She's very sweet," and also, very good at her job: Not only does she patrol the store, she has reportedly helped reduce her building's rodent population to such an extent that the super took notice, a remarkable feat.
Whatever bodega cats' professional skillsets, though, I would like to think we all understand the unspoken rule that they are key fixtures of corner stores citywide, and not up for impromptu, unsolicited adoption. As New York Deli and Grocery customer Enisi Domi put it to Pix 11, "The bodega cat is [an] important part of the community." The bodega cat deserves your respect, please keep your paws to yourself.