New York City’s Algonquin Hotel has a feline tradition of sorts – namely having a resident cat to greet people in the lobby. Matlida III is the tenth in a line of hotel cats that dates back to 1932.  She has her own page on the hotel’s website, and her own email address. Yet the City’s Department of Public Health has issues with the hotel having both Matilda and another tradition – food in the lobby – co-existing.

According to the hotel website, the cat normally has the run of the building except for the dinning room and kitchens.  However, since the hotel also serves food in its lobby, it’s running afoul of the health code, which prohibits pets in any area where food is served. (Interestingly, the news article says there’s an exception for restaurants that serve seafood. I’m not sure why, but I guess we all know cat’s would never go for seafood…). Therefore, Matilda is now being kept on a leash and restricted to the reception desk, main entrance and coat room. 

So, does any of this make sense? There’s no clear answer, and like a lot of other infectious disease issues, it comes down to cost/benefit. Every human/animal encounter comes with some risk of infectious disease transmission, as does every human/human encounter. Some things increase the risk, while others can decrease the risk.

Having food served around animals increases the risk of disease transmission, because many of the infections we’re concerned about are transmitted by ingestion of bacteria and parasites from animals. Based on that, it seems like a reasonable rule, even though it’s probably much more likely that someone would contract an infectious disease from a person in the lobby than from the cat. Ideally, they’d figure out a way to have the food in another area so the cat could still roam the lobby without having access to the food serving area itself, but that may not be an option for the hotel.

One thing that often gets overlooked in these discussions is allergies. In reality, allergies are probably the biggest human health issue with a situation like this. Some people are extremely allergic to cats and wouldn’t expect to encounter a cat in a place like this. An unexpected cat encounter could cause significant discomfort for some allergic individuals. Letting the cat hang around the coat room raises similar concerns because of the potential for contamination of peoples’ coats with fur and dander.

Issues like this tend to generate a polarized response, with some people outraged at the cat’s restriction and others outraged at peoples’ outrage, reasoning that a hotel lobby is no place for a cat.

Condolences can be sent to Matilda via her personal email address: