On a recent Friday in Manhattan, six people and two dogs walked into Manhattan's civil courthouse to determine who was at fault for a sudden and brutal uptown assault. They brought surreptitiously recorded videos and time-stamped evidence; one carried a reinforced legal folder stuffed with astronomical bills issued by two different medical institutions. The mediation process, all parties agreed, hadn't gone well. It was time for the justice system to determine whose version of events was more credible, and who was ultimately responsible for the violence of that spring afternoon.
The case of interest was an entrant into the surprisingly robust world of bodega cat case law, a curious claim that interrogated both the character and origin of a black cat dubbed "Negrito" by his neighbors in Washington Heights. By most accounts, the cat has been hanging out on the corner of Audubon and West 187th, also the site of G & J Deli, for years. On April 3, some time between 2 and 2:30 in the afternoon, a local named Joseph Blanco and his girlfriend were walking their three-month-old pit bull when two women standing in front of the bodega asked to say hello to the dog. "While we were conversating," Blanco told the judge, "the cat comes out of nowhere, scratches her all up." He'd come to court to extract $5,000 or so—the cost of his puppy's ensuing veterinary bills —from the manager of G & J.