NYC dogs can smell a rat and capture it too
A far cry from the noble European hunts of yore, rat hunting as a sport for dogs is becoming a 'thing' in New York. Members of the Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society – RATS – meet at night and sic their dog companions on vermin scurrying about in the night.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
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."