There are many ways a person could spend a weekend night: going dancing, trying a new restaurant, binge-watching "The Office," taking your small dog out on the streets of New York to catch and kill rats. You know, weekend stuff.
The Ryders Alley Trencherfed Society, or R.A.T.S, has been meeting since 1995. That's when Richard Reynolds, along with his pack of about a half-dozen dogs and some like-minded friends with their dogs, began prowling the streets of New York City with dogs that have been traditionally bred and recently trained to flush rats from their hiding places and kill them.
Ratters Born and Bred
R.A.T.S. has about 65 members, give or take, and an active Facebook page. Most of the dogs are border terriers, Norfolk terriers, fox terriers and dachshunds — all breeds that have a history of being bred to do the dirty work of ratting.
It's the job of the smaller breeds to flush out the rats from the garbage. As the rodents skitter away across the pavement, the longer-legged breeds chase them down. When they catch a rat, they give it a good shake to kill it, then they bring the rat back to their human, who puts it in a bag to dispose of it.
Bones to Pick
Not everyone loves this idea. The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have both noted that it's not very humane for the rats. There is a bit of worry that it's dangerous for the dogs, who could contract leptospirosis, a bacterial infection common in rats. Some also worry that the dogs could ingest rat poison that the rats themselves have eaten, but it hasn't been an issue so far. The dogs have suffered a few scratches and minor bites, but the team carries first aid supplies.
Ratting with dogs is not illegal in the city, and some are all for it. Residents are encouraged to contact R.A.T.S. if they notice an outdoor rat infestation sightings, and they do. There's no charge, though the group does note that "coffee, water and kudos are appreciated." They received the latter in 2017, when the group was honored by the Queens City Councilman Eric Ulrich for their work. The humans received commendations; the dogs were given bones and beef jerky.
For dogs outside the city who might like to do what they were born to do, there's barn hunt. In this sport, which became official in the United States in April 2013, the dogs track the rats over and around obstacles such as hay bales. The rats themselves are housed in aerated tubes so the dogs can smell and hear them, but they cannot kill them.