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STEINWAY IS THE CHOICE OF HOROWITZ, CLIBURN, CATS

SHARE STEINWAY IS THE CHOICE OF HOROWITZ, CLIBURN, CATS

It's OK if Vladimir Horowitz or Van Cliburn tinkle the ivories of a Steinway, but when a pack of stray cats do the same thing it strikes a discordant note.

Some of the hand-crafted, $50,000 pianos have become bathrooms and scratching posts for rogue cats roaming the Steinway factory in Queens, leaving company officials singing the blues and setting cat traps.Factory workers report they're catching about eight cats each week inside the building. "That sounds about right. I don't think that's high," said Leo Spellman, a Steinway spokesman.

The kitty capers are a first at the plant, which opened in 1870. And the problem gets worse for Steinway because it sets back the slow, painstaking effort which goes into making the pianos.

A Steinway grand piano - the model favored by Horowitz, Cliburn and other maestros - takes a full year to create, with dozens of workers involved in the process. But their efforts can be undone in a single night of feline revelry, said factory superintendent Ron Penatzer.

If the cats use a piano soundboard to relieve themselves, it takes six weeks and costs $2,000 to repair the piece, he said. Spellman said the company did not have an estimate on how much the kitties had cost it.

The cats hide out on the 10-acre facility until the workers depart at 4:30 p.m. When they return the next morning, the workers find pianos covered with paw prints, scratches, or . . . or . . . you know.

Company officials blame an illegal dump on an adjacent lot for the problem. The dump attracts rats, which in turn bring in the cats, which use the factory to unwind after dining.

When traps snare a furry prey, Steinway workers return the cats to their dump home, leaving them free to make a return engagement the following night through the aging complex's many nooks and crannies.

The company has told the city about the problem and even volunteered to clean the site itself, but their complaints "have fallen on deaf ears," Spellman said.

Department of Sanitation spokesman Vito Turso said the dead-end street "sounds like a classic place for illegal dumping," adding that the most the city can do is police the area once or twice a year.

Unfortunately for Steinway, that hasn't been enough to keep their factory feline-free.

"We don't like it. It's not extensive, not in any way affecting the manufacturing, but it's embarrassing," Spellman said. "We wish the city would clean it up and put this to rest."