The Pecksniffian Management at a Swindon Pub Plies Ember with Food and Then Gives Her the Bum's Rush
"Everybody has to stop letting her in, as I spend half the day chasing her out."
-- Manager Mark Burton
A loving ginger-colored cat unwittingly has become tangled up in a tug-of-war between a publican's desire to exploit her for commercial gain while simultaneously attempting to comply with health regulations that outlaw her from his establishment.
Her name is Ember and she turned up unannounced at the Blunsdon Arms on Thamesdown Drive in Swindon about eight months ago and refuses to leave. That certainly is not surprising considering all the fish, chicken, and cat food that the staff has been plying her with in addition to all the attention that they and customers lavish upon her.
"I think she gets better fed than me," pub manager Mark Burton told the Swindon Advertiser on October 14th. (See "Pub Ban Is a Cat-astrophe!") "She turns up at 7 a.m. looking for food and is so friendly and quite unusual."
Therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. Presumably, either health inspectors or some ailurophobic patrons have objected to her presence.
Consequently, Burton and his staff have resorted to cruelly giving her the bum's rush. "As we do a lot of food, we have to keep chucking her out," Burton added. "She is very forward and goes for everyone's lap when she comes into the pub."
That is not all she does. According to staffer Kellie Watkins, she also badgers diners for tidbits and morsels of their fares.
"She will just sit on my shoulder for ages," Watkins told the Swindon Advertiser in the article cited supra. "She can be a pain though when she sneaks inside, as she tries to sit on top of tables and watches people eat their dinner." (See photo above of her and co-worker Sarah Harrison with Ember outside the bar.)
Although she only has been at the Blunsdon Arms for a short while, she has become extremely popular with some of the regulars who willingly hold open the door so that she can come inside. This has forced management to post a patently discriminatory and inhumane sign on the portal which reads: "Please Note the Cat Is Barred."
It does not seem to be having much of an effect, however. After all, it was the punters who named her Ember in honor of the chain which owns the pub as well as another one-hundred-seventy-five watering holes. There is even talk of establishing a page for her on Facebook.
Nevertheless, it appears that management is dead serious about declaring her persona non grata. "Everybody has to stop letting her in, as I spend half the day chasing her out," Burton told the Advertiser.
Once evicted, Ember bides her time hanging out underneath the pub's outdoor heaters and giving the evil eye to any other felines who attempt to horn in on her turf. "She is very territorial," Burton conceded.
No one seems to know where she came from or even if she has a regular place to hang her hat. Nonetheless, since she does not spend her nights at the pub she must be sleeping somewhere and hopefully that is not outdoors in the cold, rain, and snow.
It is rumored that her real name is Jasmine although even that never has been confirmed. There can be no doubt, however, that because of her friendly disposition she has spent her entire life around people. "Obviously she likes people or is very lonely," Burton affirmed.
Ember's predicament raises several important issues. First of all, health regulations barring cats and other animals from restaurants and grocery stores are a major problem everywhere but perhaps nowhere more so than in New York City.
The city's restaurants, delicatessens, and bodegas are overrun with mice, cockroaches, and God only knows what else. It is not that New Yorkers are necessarily any more unsanitary than people elsewhere, but when there are roughly eight million of them the enormous amount of food that must be kept on hand in order to sustain them is bound to attract pests.
Besides, although it is not widely broadcast, it is precisely all the ground-up cockroaches and rodent poop that gives New York cuisine its world renown flavor. That is not a problem in that the natives have grown accustomed to the taste and like it whereas what the tourists do not know probably will not kill them.
Because of draconian city and state laws, however, establishments that sell food are fined anywhere from $300 to $2000 for keeping cats. They are likewise fined an equivalent amount if mouse droppings are found on the premises.
"It's hard for bodega owners because they're not supposed to have a cat, but they're also not supposed to have rats," is how Jose Fernandez of the Bodega Association of the United States summed up the Catch-22 situation that confronts the members of his organization to The New York Times on December 21, 2007. (See "To Dismay of Inspectors, Prowling Cats Keep Rodents on the Run at City Delis.")
The extensive damage that mice do to merchandise also must be taken into consideration. It is not so much the case that they are voracious eaters as it is that they tend to be gourmands who like to sample a wide variety of foods.
Consequently, unless food is secured in steel containers they are going to get into large quantities of it, nibble on it, and leave behind feces. It actually would be preferable if they consumed it in toto because once they have gotten into it management is forced to discard it because it is no longer suitable for human consumption.
Pest control companies are not the answer either. First of all, they are not very proficient at what they do and, secondly, their victims often die inside walls and underneath freezers. Thus left to rot unattended in nooks and crannies, their corpses stink up the premises from stem to stern.
Confronted with such a no-win situation, many eateries and food stores belatedly have recognized that there is much wisdom in that old Norwegian proverb which counsels that "it is better to feed one cat than many mice." (See Cat Defender post of April 20, 2006 entitled "Molly Is Finally Freed After Spending Two Weeks Trapped Inside the Walls of an English Deli in Greenwich Village.")
In spite of weekly visits by an exterminator, Luis Martinez watched helplessly as mice repeatedly decimated his inventory at the grocery store that he operates in the East New York section of Brooklyn. He finally wised up one day and procured a marmalade-colored kitten named Junior who promptly restored order within a fortnight.
"Before you'd see giant rats running in off the streets into the store, but since Junior, no more," he proudly informed The Times in the article cited supra.
Despite the persistent lies of ailurophobes, cats are very fastidious animals that are considerably cleaner and carry fewer diseases than most people. Human intelligence being what it is, many individuals who think absolutely nothing at all about spending hours on end in a crowded bar, such as the Blunsdon Arms, jostling with coughing, sneezing, spitting, and farting disease-carriers nevertheless go ballistic at the sight of a cat.
More that likely that is attributable to the inferiority that they, slobs and brutes for the most part, feel in the presence of such a clean-living and virtuous animal. Moreover, all of the rotgut that they have consumed probably has addled their brains as well as destroyed their livers. (See Cat Defender post of September 18, 2008 entitled "Drunken Brute Beats, Stabs, and Then Hurls Fifi to Her Death Against the Side of a House in Limerick.")
More to the point, shaking hands, kissing, and having it off are three of the most unhygienic activities known to man. Some people, it would appear, just have a natural affinity for germs and dirt.
Thanks to the concerted efforts of the Spay and Neuter Intervention Project of Maspeth, Queens and other groups, store cats may one day receive the legal recognition that they so richly deserve. "If cats live in homes and apartments where people have food, a cat shouldn't be a threat in a store if it's well maintained," Fernandez astutely pointed out to The Times.
Returning to the dilemma confronted by the Blunsdon Arms, far from having its hands tied the pub has many options available to it in dealing with Ember. If management truly does not want her around, it should endeavor to ascertain if she has an owner. Under no circumstances, however, should it hand her over to either the RSPCA or some other rescue group to be either killed or indefinitely caged at some hellhole shelter.
Should the drinking establishment ultimately decide to keep her, it should first of all provide her with a place to sleep. She could be given free run of the place during off-hours but confined to a room during business hours.
Such an arrangement would have the disadvantage of putting an end to her reign as the pub's principal drawing card and that is going to cost it dearly in both the pocketbook as well as in the free publicity department. It is, admittedly, a tough choice but management needs to strike a balance between what is best for Ember and what code enforcement officers will allow them to do.
More importantly, Burton and his staff are confusing Ember by constantly sending her mixed messages. One moment she is welcomed inside with open arms while the next she is shooed out like a leper.
Sometimes she is treated to a proverbial feast while at others she is maligned for snitching so much as a crumb or two. One day she is treated with kindness and showered with tons of love and attention while the following day no one will give her so much as a moment of their time.
Cats are neither clairvoyants nor psychologists schooled in human neuroses. Likewise, neither the minutiae of health regulations nor the exploitative games that the petite bourgeoisie engage in mean anything to them.
"A cat has absolute honesty...," as Ernest Hemingway once stated, and as such they are incapable of deceit. They therefore deserve to be treated honestly as well as humanely.
Given the fact that pubs have a long and storied tradition of keeping and serving both cats and dogs, it is unclear why officials are giving the Blunsdon Arms such a difficult time. For instance, management at the Crown Inn in Lewes, Sussex, have been caring for a handsome tomcat dubbed Tosh for the past couple of weeks without any apparent harassment from health inspectors.
He was discovered stranded on the pub's roof but the kindhearted staff eventually was able to coax him down to safety. After fattening him up a bit, the pub now is concentrating its efforts on reuniting him with his rightful owner. (See photo above of him with mixologist Tom Herbert.)
"He's a beautiful cat and is obviously someone's pet," proprietor Karen Lloyd told the Sussex Express on October 16th. (See "Lost Cat Found on Pub Roof.") "He was skinny at first but he's putting on weight and I think he's around two to four-years-old."
At the Hen and Chicken in Southwater, Daisy celebrated her twenty-second birthday on November 24, 2006 and hopefully is still going strong. (See photo above of her in the arms of co-owner Chris Marks.)
Although the establishment has had multiple landlords over the years, Daisy has lived her entire life there. Now that she is getting on, she contents herself with sitting by the fireplace and playing with wool. (See Cat Defender post of December 15, 2006 entitled "Minnesota Cat Named Baby Celebrates His Thirty-Sixth Birthday; English Pub Cat Named Daisy Turns Twenty-Two.")
Employees of The Swan in Ironbridge, Shropshire, received a pleasant surprise last October 31st when a black and white moggy subsequently dubbed Carlsburg arrived along with a consignment of beer. (See Cat Defender post of December 12, 2007 entitled "Bored with Conditions at Home, Carlsburg Stows Away on a Beer Lorry for the Adventure of a Lifetime.")
Employee Catherine Redgrave was set to adopt him but his owner turned up at the last minute in order to reclaim the cat that she calls Spot. (See photo above of Carlsburg with Redgrave.)
At Gaspar's Grotto in Tampa, a former stray named Tanker Ray has made quite a name for himself. Not only does he have a red lager named after him, but he also appears in commercials and at parties and fundraisers. (See Cat Defender post of December 13, 2007 entitled "Tanker Ray Survives Being Abandoned as a Kitten in Order to Become the World Famous Mascot of a Tampa Bar.")
Historically, dogs have been every bit as welcome as cats in England's drinking establishments. For instance, a terrier named Ratty periodically makes an unescorted fifteen-mile bus trip from Dunnington to York in order to enjoy at plate of bangers at the Rose and Crown on Lawrence Street.
An elderly Jack Russell Terrier named Pluto with a fondness for bitters and crisps makes the rounds (or at least used to) at four pubs in Featherstone, West Yorkshire. (See Cat Defender post of November 20, 2006 entitled "Ratty's Taste for Bangers Coupled with His Owner's Negligence Places Terrier's Life in Jeopardy.")
Photos: Swindon Advertiser (Ember with Watkins and Harrison), the Sussex Express (Tosh and Herbert), West Sussex Observer (Daisy and Marks), and Ed Bagnall of the Shropshire Star (Carlsburg and Redgrave).