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JoAnna Lou
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Modern Day Rat Catchers
NYC dogs search for rodents in their spare time

Walking around New York City, you see a wide range of dog breeds. While they all play the role of loyal companion, few get to partake in what they were originally bred to do. A group of urban terriers is changing that by taking advantage of the city's plentiful rodents to exercise their instincts.

Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS), organized by New Jersey breeder Richard Reynolds, has been hunting for rodents every week in downtown Manhattan for over a decade.

The group congregates in a rat infested alley about an hour after sunset. The dogs include two Border Terriers, a wire-haired Dachshund, a Jack Russell Terrier/Australian Cattle Dog mix, a Patterdale Terrier, and a Feist.

The dogs often work together as a team. One will bark when they locate a rat, another leaps at the rodent, and another lunges to catch the prey as it tries to get away.

The pups are trained to kill the rat (usually by shaking) and bring it back to someone on the human side of the team. It's not unusual for the them to kill 13 rats in a half hour.

I would be worried about the dogs getting sick from the wild animals, but Richard says that no member of the team has ever fallen ill, after all this is what they were bred to do.

There are references to rat catchers working with terriers and ferrets as far back as 1851, but most people today rely on traps and poison.  Modern rat catching has become more of a hobby.

This year the American Kennel Club started recognizing titles from the sport of barn hunt, where dogs sniff around a course and indicate where they smell a rat concealed in a container.

I love to see new dog sports that take advantage of our pups' natural talents.  RATS and barn hunt provide another way to bond with our dogs while having fun... and in the case of RATS, removing a few more rodents from the streets of New York.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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