Since Sandy flushed New York City’s subway system like a filthy urinal in the Times Square T.G.I. Fridays there has been much anxiety over the fate of our city’s prodigious subway rats. Would New York streets now be overrun by disease-ridden rats driven from their subterranean lairs? No, says a guy whose singular passion is hunting and killing New York City rats.
Scientists and city officials have already largely debunked the possibility of an impending “ratpocalypse.” But I wanted to hear from someone with a more hands-on knowledge of the tiny filthy bastards. So I called Richard L. Reynolds, the leader of a loose-knit group of dog owners who use their working terriers to hunt rats on Friday nights in Manhattan, known as the Ryder’s Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS). Reynolds has been hunting rats with dogs for decades, and when I called him in New Jersey, where he still doesn’t have power, and asked about the possibility of a great rat invasion, he delivered a fascinating monologue on rats and their behavior, which I will transcribe roughly word-for-word here:
“I kind of doubt [that there will be a rat invasion.] I’ve been messing with New York City rats for about 20 years now—they’re pretty predictable. Remember that Norwegian rats are essentially water rats. They got here by being waterborn. We used to hunt in Liberty State Park and I saw a rat take a dive off a 50 foot bridge and swim across the bay to get away from our dogs. They’re fairly well acclimated to water. The stories you hear about big hordes of rats being produced by the flooding I wouldn’t believe it. I don’t think you’ll see armies rats wandering around.
The places where these rats live, where they call home, they’re really secure. We can’t get them there. We have to draw them out to try to hunt them. There’s a building I’ve been trying to get in. The building has been vacant for 20 years. They’re shooting a movie in there and last week I saw that the door was open and I thought, Oh golly this is great I’ve been wanting to get in.
They also travel in waves from place to place. If something goes wrong, if they start digging up the street for instance in once place the rats will generally pack up and move someplace else for a while. The populations aren’t necessarily stable. I used to have a group of homeless guys who would actually email me and tell me where the rats are. The city cracked down on them and they moved south so we don’t have those guys anymore.
[Rats] move from place to place and you’ll hear about it, the news media will tell you where they are. Somebody will bitch about their neighborhood being overcome with rats. We get certain amounts of calls from certain places telling us where there is a lot of rat activity. 83rd street over on the east side is big time. Riverside Park has got a lot of rats. And the Parks Department is trying, they’ve got their own megabait boxes. We haven’t been able to get very many rats in Riverside Park because they don’t have to go too far from their burrows to feed. The only way we can get them out of their burrows when they’re in there is to smoke them out, and even though they have a new ratsmoker on the market in England we don’t have one over here. It’s far too noisy for us to use so we never have. Though we could make a career out of using a smoker in Chinatown.
The other day I was in the housing projects over on [redacted] and there are thousands of rats that are active there. I’d just as soon that not become public information. We’re going to go down and hunt there next Friday night.
We don’t do any good on depleting the rat population, we just make it seem like that. A rat comes into season every three days and can have a litter every 23 days. The average litter is about 12. They reach maturity at about five weeks. So if you kill two rats today you’re eliminating about 23,000 rats next year. That’s the only way we justify our existence.
Sometimes these rat alarms are a little blown out of proportion. Somebody sees a rat that looks like a small kangaroo. and they’re more knee-jerk reactions than reality. And the rats do move so if they see a lot of rats today there’s no guarantee there will be there tomorrow. They migrate, there’s no two ways about it. There will be a lot of activity and then they’ll die down.”