It’s a bit of a touchy subject in some city neighborhoods. Bodega, or shop, cats–a violation of the Department of Health codes but a necessity for keeping rodents out of the establishment. In New York City, where a 2014 study estimated there are 2 Million rats living (above ground only!), what can you do?! These working bodega cats are the perfect answer. They control the rodent and cockroach populations, usually in exchange for food and shelter. But what happens when the cats become MORE than just a self-cleaning pest controller? They become part of the bodega family. For a young kitten in the Bronx, she became a VERY special cat to one boy.
Two-month-old Luna, doesn’t just live in the bodega. She works part-time as a therapy animal for the owners 10-year-old son who has Autism.
The shop is Ismael’s Gourmet Deli, located on 238th Street. Owners Ismael Diaz and Suzie Pena’s son Jonathan, visits the bodega every day as soon as school lets out. He can often be seen lounging casually with sweet Luna, just happily passing the time.
We all know how soothing it can be to relax and go on “auto-stroke” mode when petting our cats. For Jonathan though, it’s a therapeutic way to help control the sensory issues he has. This is quite a mutually beneficial relationship too. Not only does Luna’s fur provide relief to him, Luna gets to happily to snuggle on her buddy. And apparently, she’s quite a cuddler!
Speaking to @PIX11News, Pena explained Luna’s appeal to Jonathan.
“One thing that helps him, because of his sensory issues, is soft. The softness of things and cats are really soft, so he loved that she’s cuddly.”
At 2-months-old, the kitten has benefited from the customers visiting the bodega each day. It’s the perfect way to socialize her to humans. If she’s not worried about them, she can focus on the unwanted pests. That and her beloved young human.
Sadly, there’s no way to teach animals about “stranger danger”, and Luna was stolen from the bodega on Saturday, February 23rd.
Fortunately, the store is covered with cameras, inside and out. The thoughtless man was so focused on his crime, that he didn’t realize he was being filmed the entire time. I’m not sure if it was premeditated or a decision made on a whim though. For the perpetrator here, it seems a purple cookie monster hoodie was his crime-attire of choice. Kinda stands out!
Outraged and distraught, Suzie Pena shared the footage of the crime in action on her social media pages. Her plea to friends and family to share the story and wanted poster received quite a reply. News channels and reporters took notice of the heinous crime. It didn’t take long for his face to be plastered all over the TV, internet and newspapers.
Suzie narrated the criminal’s steps seen on the 3 surveillance videos later. It was about 40 minutes after he left that they noticed Luna was missing.
Here you can see how he lures her out from under the table…
…then hides her from the counter so my husband can’t see her…
Posted by Suzie Pena on Tuesday, February 26, 2019
…then walks right out with her!
Posted by Suzie Pena on Tuesday, February 26, 2019
With the suspects face clearly displayed for all to see, Suzie quickly reported the atrocity to the police.
The officers at NYPD’s 50th Precinct were dedicated to following up on tips from the public. They were happy to help spread the story on their social media site.
But two days after she was taken, they still had no leads on the man in the video.
Missing the cat dearly, Suzie and Ismael were heartbroken to share how much Jonathan was being effected.
“(Jonathan) hasn’t stopped crying,” owner Ismael Diaz said. “He can’t comprehend. We tell him that the police are investigating, so every time he sees a police officer, he goes, ‘Mom! Mom! Ask them, ask them if they found her.'” ~ excerpt of interview with abc7ny.com
As the hours turned into days, the family began losing hope that Luna was okay. They had the cat-burglars’ (literally) picture, but no one could know how he was treating Luna. Scarier still to think that he had done something with or to her. Jonathan’s fragile emotions were a great concern to his parents. What if she was never found? Some suggested they get another cat for him, but it was still so unbelievable to consider.
I hope you find her but if you don’t find her soon it might be wise to look for one as close as you can find for Jonathan’s sake, sometimes it’s just what we have to do for them. ~ (concerned friend of the family)
I know, but my husband and I agree that is such a risk to have another baby in here. Now I’m scared it will happen again, even when we both know we really need it before mice realize she is gone but is so hard? I was totally in love with her. ?? ~ Suzie
The benefits of social media were working in the background non-stop though.
As the story reached further and further, it came to the attention of some people who could very much effect the outcome. Those two people were 29-year-old Stanley Duran and his mother. She received quite a shock when she recognized the “mug” in the photo as her own son!
Stanley had also experienced the flood of guilt when he saw the grief that he had caused the family. He was scared though and it took his mother’s convincing for him to finally do the right thing. He contacted the family and admitted his fault, apologizing for his actions.
Although an apology was welcomed, they ALL knew that wouldn’t be enough. It was actually Stanley who had one request for them when he willingly returned their kitten.
When he brought Luna back, he urged the family to call the police as well.
On Thursday afternoon, 5 days after Luna was taken from the bodega, she was returned to one extremely happy young man. A stranger handed her back to the overjoyed family, because her cat napper too ashamed to step foot in the shop. He worked up the courage soon after though, knowing it was only right he apologize in person.
10-year-old Jonathan told @PIX11News he is very happy to be reunited with Luna.
He says his furry friend is the first thing he sees when he wakes up and last thing he sees before he goes to bed. pic.twitter.com/hfk0Y8sMpt
— Andrew Ramos (@AndrewRamosTV) February 28, 2019
Stanley then waited outside the bodega for the police to arrive. He was arrested and has been charged with petit larceny. This is described as “A form of larceny—the stealing of another’s personal property—in which the value of the property taken is generally less than $50.“
Ismael shared their families relief with reporters at the New York Post.
“He apologized,” Diaz said. “He’s just a boy. He said it was unintentional, but he clearly grabbed it.”
Suzie and Ismael didn’t actually want to press charges but knew the police had to take action.
There are consequences to actions and Stanley returning Luna didn’t make up for the 5 days of misery. They felt he just needed to learn a valuable lesson.
Diaz, though, said all that matters is the cat is back in the store and that his 10-year-old son, who has autism, has been reunited with his feline friend.
“It was hard to explain to him,” he said. “My son is super happy now.”
Not only was Jonathan thrilled to have his buddy back, everyone who’d been involved was grateful for this happy ending!
It truly took a community to bring Luna back home. This is one bodega cat that’s got an even larger family now.
We NIPPED this quickly! Thank you community!! https://t.co/QX6lviYgno
— NYPD 50th Precinct (@NYPD50Pct) February 28, 2019
Because of everything that happened, Suzie says they are going to be micro-chipping Luna this week. Noise may be an idea too, so they are considering getting a collar with a bell for her. This was she can jingle safely around her bodega.
Going to the vet for a checkup for her to make sure everything is okay. We are back to normal! Luna went viral, thank you so much!