British Columbia·Photos

Meet the magnificent shop cats of Vancouver

The shop cat is an uncommon sight in Vancouver but you can find them in some businesses acting as mousers and mascots.

These felines are dogged employees

Shop cats like Marshmallow are not commonly seen in Vancouver but they tend to make for good mousers and popular attractions for customers.  (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Like a miniature tiger, Wilbur spends his days patrolling a tiny jungle in East Vancouver.

His jungle is the houseplants sold at Figaro's Garden in East Vancouver, and miniature might not be the right word for Wilbur, who, at about seven kilograms, is a fairly husky orange tabby.

But, like a tiger, Wilbur is an elusive breed: he is a Vancouver shop cat.

Shop cats are hard to find in Vancouver stores but their human co-workers say they make for a more pleasant workplace.

Wilbur sometimes catches rodents but mostly focuses on customer relations. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"He's a very important part of the business," manager Conor Preston said. "There's definitely a few people who come by just to see Wilbur."

Shop cats often live in stores to catch mice and rats but their role is evolving. Today, the shop cat is equal parts mouser and mascot.

An employee at Figaro's Garden feeds Wilbur his breakfast. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Impressive resumé

Wilbur's resumé is impressive: he has caught rats but is also a greeter, child distracter and a meticulous timekeeper.

"Usually, he gets fed around five, five thirty ... he has a very distinct meow for when it's dinner time," Preston said.

If Wilbur is one of a rare breed, so is Marshmallow — and the business he calls home.

Marshmallow lives at Windermere Market, a corner grocery store in East Vancouver.

Wilbur holds many duties at Figaro's Garden and is the shop's longest-tenured employee. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Corner stores in Vancouver have been disappearing for years. Derek Doo opened Windermere Market three years ago to reverse that.

Doo said it was his dream to have a little store with a cat "like in the storybooks."

Marshmallow came to the shop as a kitten to prevent rats — Doo said the store was a dilapidated mess when he took it over — but has become much more than that.

"The kids love the cat. He's becoming a very popular mascot," Doo said. "He keeps everybody smiling."

Derek Doo holds Marshmallow. Doo said the 18-month-old cat was named by local children. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ancient role

Experts say the role of shop cats as pest controllers, like Wilbur and Marshmallow, is one that harkens back thousands of years.

"Keeping cats only indoors and only as pets is something that's rather unusual when you compare it to the history of humanity and also different cultures," said Sasha Protopopova, an assistant professor with the animal welfare program at the University of British Columbia.

The Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health said while exceptions can be made, non-service animals are not allowed in food premises, but complaints about cats are uncommon.

In New York City, cats are seen in countless family-run grocery stores called "bodegas."

Louie Chin, a Brooklyn-based writer and illustrator published children's book Bodega Cat to celebrate the sense of community they bring.

Brooklyn-based writer and illustrator Louie Chin wrote children's book Bodega Cat in 2019. (Submitted by Louie Chin)

Walking into a bodega is like walking into the owner's home — complete with family pet.

"[The bodega cat] is almost like a part of the store," Chin said. "Sort of like a neighborhood celebrity."

Chin said bodega cats have become much more popular in recent years thanks to social media, but their origins are likely due to New York's infamous rodent problems.

At pet store Long Live Cats and Dogs, Ronnie and Ritchie act as ambassadors for rescue animals. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"There's definitely some giant-sized mice roaming around," he said.

Ambassadors

Back in Vancouver, when cats Ronnie and Ritchie aren't stealing treats and catching the occasional mouse at pet store Long Live Cats and Dogs, manager Simone Bur says they fulfill a critical role.

Ritchie Catmore — named for former Deep Purple member Ritchie Blackmore — is described as a notorious thief who opens up bags of cat treats on the shelves of Long Live Cats and Dogs. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Both are rescues: Ronnie came from a situation of neglect while Ritchie was found in a box with her dead littermates. She was the only survivor.

At the shop, they are ambassadors for animal rescue and adoption.

"A lot of people see them in the window and want to get a pet," Bur said. "It gives us an entry to guide people towards rescue or shelter.

Ronnie James Meow — named for metal singer-songwriter Ronnie James Dio — is described as an excellent mouser. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"People have this idea that, you know, rescue animals come with issues. These guys show people that there's a lot of amazing cats out there in our local shelters and rescue."

Moments after this praise was uttered, Ronnie fell from the ceiling and knocked over a bunch of stacked cat beds.

Simone Bur surveys the chaos only a cat can create. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 

About the Author

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten. Liam contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where he investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.

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