By Martin Joseph
In Bedford-Stuyvesant, small business owners are finding a new source of cheap labor within the homeless population. These workers are usually tasked with killing mice in basements and open lots. They happily work for $1.25 a day, as long as it is paid in cat food.
Hugo is an orange cat who works at La Bellaca, a bodega on the corner of Hancock and Tompkins. “He comes and goes” said Fernando, the owner of the store. Hugo kills mice and rats in exchange for one can of wet food a day, usually generic, and a warm place to sleep. Hugo is not a pet, however according to Fernando ; he has no collar or permanent home. He can usually be found burying his feces next to any one of the trees within his territory on Hancock street between Marcy and Tompkins.
Fernando first met Hugo, “About a year ago”, when a romance between Fernando’s former feline employee resulted in a pregnancy. The small grey cat had been a family pet for years. She wore a collar and came to work with Fernando every day. Fernando offered the kittens to neighbors but sadly they were never born. In late February, the pregnant cat was with a broken neck. She had been struck by a car.
After her death, Hugo became Fernando’s main employee. He usually shows up three times a week in the mornings and works for an hour or so until returning to the streets. He rarely catches anything, but Fernando is satisfied with Hugo’s work. Fernando said, “the smell keeps them away.”
Hugo’s employment has been contested of late. A young cat named Demitry has been encroaching upon his territory. “He doesn’t like to be inside,” said Fernando about Demitry the cat. Fernando believes that Demitry may have been a house cat at one point but he chose a life on the streets. Demitry is larger and younger than Hugo and has begun challenging his territory. The ferocious feline refuses to be pet and will enforce that policy with a bite.
Tensions have been building for a some time now. Fernando suspects that Demitry has only recently come to the neighborhood. Hugo has defended his territory against Demitry on few unknown occasions. Hugo left uninjured every time but Demitry has lost the tip of his ear and shows scars on his face and shoulders. In a standoff which was witnessed on April 17th, Demitry backed down from a confrontation but the struggle is far from over. “He comes here sometimes,” said Fernando about the black cat.
Both Demitry and Hugo can be found in the middle of the block at various times. The trees, however appear to have been claimed by Hugo. Demitry usually slinks in the guitar, hiding under cars apparently biding his time. For now, Hugo is the alpha cat pf Hancock Street between Marcy and Tompkins. He is not old yet and appears to be in his prime ti the untrained eye but the day may eventually come when Demitry has his revenge , however Hugo has defended his throne thus far.
Cats can also be found working around the corner in an empty lot. Brothers Fred and George, work in the lot keeping rodents at bay. Their pay comes in the form of wet food served in a foil takeout container. The abandoned buildings provide graffiti artists, a canvas as well as a dry place for the cats to sleep. Though the fence is high and would be a prison for most humans, the cats can come and go as they please through the spaces in the fence. Neither Fred nor George have been seen outside of their fence due to the competition. Demitry has tried to take their jobs as well, but the brothers were witnessed repelling the invader late one April night.
Demitry appears to have an unpaid position in a construction site across the street from La Bellaca though this has yet to be confirmed. He sprints towards the site when he felt threatened and works his way between the wooden wall of the construction site and the iron bars of the neighbor’s place.