Rats and the City: Amateur urban hunters use dogs to track down and exterminate rodents in the Big Apple

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on May 1, 2013 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

  • Members of Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS) have been meeting weekly for a decade to hunt rats 
  • Four-legged hunters include border terriers, a wire-haired dachshund, Jack Russell terrier mix and Patterdale terrier
  • PETA called urban rats hunts ‘a twister blood sport masquerading as rodent control’

By
Associated Press Reporter

13:19 EST, 30 April 2013


|

15:27 EST, 30 April 2013

Bodies tense and noses twitching, the dogs sniff the fertile hunting ground before them: a lower Manhattan alley, grimy, dim and perfect for rats. With a terse command — ‘Now!’ — the chase is on.

Circling, bounding over and pawing at a mound of garbage bags, the four dogs quickly have rodents on the run.

‘Come on … I mean, `Tally ho!’ says one of their owners, Susan Friedenberg. In a whirl of barks, pants and wagging tails, dogs tunnel among the bags and bolt down the alley as their quarry tries to scurry away.

Within five minutes, the city has two fewer rats.

Scroll down for video of rat hunt

Fresh kill: A dog named Paco, owned by Bill Reyna of Wayne, NJ, looks over a dead rat in a lower Manhattan alley in New York

Fresh kill: A dog named Paco, owned by Bill Reyna of Wayne, NJ, looks over a dead rat in a lower Manhattan alley in New York

Hunting party: A group of dog owners known as Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS) gather in a lower Manhattan park before a hunt for rats that takes their various breeds into alleys

Hunting party: A group of dog owners known as Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS) gather in a lower Manhattan park before a hunt for rats that takes their various breeds into alleys

Thrill of the chase: The hunters say that having their dogs track down and kill rats helps preserve the animals' hunting skills

Thrill of the chase: The hunters say that having their dogs track down and kill rats helps preserve the animals’ hunting skills

In a scrappy, streetwise cousin of mannerly countryside fox hunts, on terrain far from the European farms and fields where many of the dogs’ ancestors were bred to scramble after vermin and foxes, their masters sport trash-poking sticks instead of riding crops and say it’s just as viable an exercise for the animals’ centuries-old skills.

‘It’s about maintaining the breed type through actual work,’ says Richard Reynolds, a New Jersey-based business analyst and longtime dog breeder who might be considered the group’s organizer — if it would accept being called organized.

Known with a chuckle as the Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society — parse the acronym — the rodent-hunters have been scouring downtown byways for more than a decade, meeting weekly when weather allows. 

Watch the full video here.

On a couple of recent nights, an eclectic group of ratters converged on an alley near City Hall about an hour after sunset.

The lineups included two border terriers; a wire-haired dachshund; a Jack Russell terrier/Australian cattle dog mix; a Patterdale terrier, an intense, no-nonsense breed that’s uncommon in this country; and a feist, a type of dog developed in the American South to tree squirrels.

‘Get `im! Go!’ Serge Lozach yelled as his cairn terrier, Hudson, streaked down an alley after a fleeing rat.

Unlike many of the other owners, Lozach doesn’t breed or show dogs, but he has taken Hudson to several alley hunts.

‘I like watching him have fun,’ Lozach said.

Although
the dogs have hunting instincts, it takes training to capitalize on
them. Just because your pet runs after backyard squirrels doesn’t mean
it could ever catch one.

When
at its best, the alley pack works together. One dog will sniff out a
rat and signal its whereabouts, often by barking. Another leaps at the
hideaway to rout the quarry, and then a third lurches to catch it as it
flees.

Gruesome end: An unfortunate rat might get caught in a tug of war between dogs that circle and flank it

Gruesome end: An unfortunate rat might get caught in a tug of war between dogs that circle and flank it

Final destination: All the rats killed in a night of hunting end up in the trash

Final destination: All the rats killed in a night of hunting end up in the trash

Natural-born killer: Susan Friedenberg takes a rat from Tanner, her Border Terrier, that caught the rodent

Natural-born killer: Susan Friedenberg takes a rat from Tanner, her Border Terrier, that caught the rodent

A rat that scuttles into the open might get caught in a rundown, or even a tug of war, between dogs that circle and flank it.

After making a kill with a bite or a shake, the hunters trot back, rat in mouth, and allow their owners to take it from their jaws. The night’s kill ends up in a trash bin.

There’s no official estimate of how many rats rove the city’s streets, basements, parks and subways. But there are plenty.

Officials have tried a number of innovative tactics to rout them, including a 2007 city Health Department initiative that sent inspectors with hand-held computers to map infestations in a Bronx neighborhood and then followed up with owners to address the problems.

Recently, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to let an Arizona-based company test a form of rat birth control by setting out bait in some subway stations this summer.

But the terrier forays are an unofficial undertaking, and participants say they’re less about killing rats than giving dogs the experience of chasing them. The Health Department declined to comment on the hunts.

The idea has a long history. A noted 1851 examination of working-class life in London describes rat-catchers working the city’s streets with ferrets and terriers.

More recently, a rat-catching dachshund got attention in Seattle when its owner happened by while City Councilman Tom Rasmussen was checking out a downtown cleanup program in 2010. Rasmussen snapped a picture of the dog, rat in mouth, and posted the photo on his website.

There’s even an American dog breed called a rat terrier, though its origins lie on farms.

Rat-tracking recently became an official canine sport, called ‘barn hunt.’ Dogs get two minutes to sniff around a hay-bale maze and indicate where they smell a rat concealed in a crush-proof, aerated tube; the dog never catches the quarry. Dozens of dogs competed in the first trials this past month in Columbia, Mo.

Ruff work: Dogs taking part in the urban hunts sometimes get stuck in waste bins, fall into holes or walk away with scrapes

Ruff work: Dogs taking part in the urban hunts sometimes get stuck in waste bins, fall into holes or walk away with scrapes

Backlash: PETA has expressed outrage after learning of the rat hunts, calling the practice 'a twisted blood sport masquerading as rodent control'

Backlash: PETA has expressed outrage after learning of the rat hunts, calling the practice ‘a twisted blood sport masquerading as rodent control’

Catch of the day: The dogs tracked down dispatched 13 rats within about a half-hour

Catch of the day: The dogs tracked down dispatched 13 rats within about a half-hour

While dog owners may see it as time-honored pursuit, rat-hunting riles animal-rights advocates.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which opposes hunting in general, expressed outrage after video of a dog snatching rats in a New York City park surfaced online two years ago.

PETA Spokesman Martin Mersereau calls the alley rat quests ‘a twisted blood sport masquerading as rodent control.’

Reynolds counters that ‘there are lots of worse things that people do to rats,’ noting that poisons can sicken the animals for hours.

As for the dogs, they have sometimes gotten stuck in waste bins or tumbled into holes, and a recent night left two with scrapes. But Reynolds says none has ever been seriously hurt or fallen ill.

In one recent foray, the dogs dispatched 13 rats within about a half-hour.

The dogs prowled and prodded for about 90 more minutes before the group gave up for the night. But not to worry, said dachshund owner Trudy Kawami.

‘There will always be a million rats in the naked city.’

 

The comments below have not been moderated.

My two terriers act like this naturally – we live near open country , around schools and farmland – our dogs provide a valuable service – humanely reducing wild rat numbers around allotments and areas used by children without the use of dangerous poisons.

Hecate
,

Handeswerde, United Kingdom,
01/5/2013 09:53

Pest control the natural way, long may it continue. If they were my dogs they’d be getting a nice lump of chichken or steak as a reward for their good work right about now. PETA become more and more ludicrous as time passes.

Jay
,

Dublin, Ireland,
01/5/2013 09:38

Doing a good job, keep it up.

Happy Whammer
,

London,
01/5/2013 08:49

There are rats that are clean and rats that living in a dirty environment are not. Like to see the reaction from PETA if a rat was found inside the house in the baby cot with baby……………What shoo it away or kill it…..!!!!!!!

Jozef Goj
,

Richmond NSW, Australia,
01/5/2013 08:46

I wonder if any PETA members know that the bubonic plague which killed tens of thousands in the middle ages was caused by flea infested rats ?

machine man
,

hobart,
01/5/2013 08:34

Whoooaahhhhh better not let our boy see this, he’ll be on the first plane frothing at the mouth. Only one thing he ate’s more than a rat is a squirrel, oh and then its ginger cats.

third dog watching
,

gastley, United Kingdom,
01/5/2013 08:30

we will be needing these dogs in the uk next year……

disgusted
,

broken london, United Kingdom,
01/5/2013 08:28

Tell this to the rat!
Sounds like a win / win situation all ’round. The City has fewer rats to spread disease, the dogs have a grand old time, their owners get out of the apartment for some socializing and exercise, and the rats die quickly rather than suffering a slow, painful death from rat poison.

– lily waters, rockport, United States, 1/5/2013 0:44

azure1974
,

london,
01/5/2013 08:22

This is why we had a couple of terriers on the farm, they are excellent ratters, PETA needs to get a grip poisoning is a slow and horrible death and leaves dead rats around which other animal in the food chain can eat (and get poisoned) and voles disease is not nice either (for humans).

fuzzy
,

Tunbridge Wells,
01/5/2013 08:13

Dogs doing what dogs have been doing since the beginning of time, hunting.

Southern_Hoosier
,

Greenville SC USA, United States,
01/5/2013 08:10

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