Top Ten Produce in Vancouver's West Point Grey neighbourhood is losing a beloved staff member.
Though not officially employed by the grocery store, Mickey the cat has been a staple there for the past couple of years, patrolling the aisles for mice and enjoying the affection of customers.
But after someone reported Mickey to the province, Vancouver Coastal Health paid the store a visit.
Inspectors said Mickey isn't allowed to be there.
"He's just here for everything — therapy for all of us in this anxiety-filled time," said Matthew MacDonald, Top Ten's general manager of 21 years.
"And mainly, he's pest control."
MacDonald says when a friend told him she could no longer take care of her cat during the pandemic, he thought Mickey could help him deal with a mice infestation.
"When we first got him he was quite frightened of people," said MacDonald. "He would growl at everyone."
But as Mickey got more comfortable, he made friends and took on more responsibilities.
"There's a bunch of closed boxes of soda out front. He's usually just chilling over there on the boxes, sleeping," said Dorota Mann, who has been shopping at Top Ten for about 10 years.
Mann says Mickey is especially popular with her adult children and she doesn't see a problem with him hanging around.
"He's really friendly so everybody likes to give him scritches," she said.
"He's a little bit of a celebrity."
VCH says cats can't be in food businesses
In a statement to CBC, Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed that it received a complaint and conducted an inspection of Top Ten Produce. A spokesperson said rather than issue an order, inspectors provided the owner with "educational materials."
"The operation of food premises in B.C. is a regulated activity under the Public Health Act and an operator must not permit live animals to be on the premises," reads the statement, explaining that the use of live animals isn't a recognized part of pest management programs.
VCH says it understands the importance of pets and animals for people's mental health and well-being, but its Health Protection team will be working with the store to make sure it complies with the law.
MacDonald contends Top Ten isn't a restaurant and doesn't have open food, but says he has no choice but to keep Mickey out of the store for now.
Customers push for Mickey to stay
Emily Black is a master's student at the University of British Columbia who regularly shops at Top Ten.
"My apartment doesn't allow pets," she said. "I was so excited to have a furry friend in the neighbourhood who I could come visit [and] I've heard similar things from other people in the neighbourhood."
Black says when she heard about Mickey's plight she went on the "war path," posting on social media and getting a lot of attention on a Vancouver Reddit thread, where she went looking for suggestions on how to help the shop keep him around.
"I don't see him being a health risk at all," she said. "He's very clean.
"I would much rather have Mickey around than having my food be overrun by mice. And he's just so important to the community."
Animal law lawyer Victoria Shroff says the best potential way to bring Mickey back is to maintain constructive dialogue with the health authority and suggest possible alternatives, where he could be in some sort of enclosure but away from the food.
"I think they need to look very carefully at the specific warning they've received ... and see what they can do," said Shroff in an interview.
"And maybe also talking with the health authorities and seeing, is there a possibility of an exception?"
MacDonald says he'll be leaving Mickey at his nearby home from now on, though his feline friend does tend to return to the grocery store whenever he's let outside.
"The sad part is I think he's really connected with people," said MacDonald. "You can tell it feels like his home now.
"To see him go is quite devastating."