Have you seen the video clip of a sleeping subway rider who was woken up by a large rat crawling up to his neck? The scene would have been entertaining, even funny, if it were taken from some movie. But that’s the thing – it’s not a movie, but a real depiction of the rat crisis in New York.
Cue music: Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it, New York, New York! If you were a resident of New York, you could be making plans of leaving too, because for sure, you do not want to be a part of the ever-growing rat problem in the Big Apple.
It just keeps getting worse. Rats can be seen scampering about just anywhere – in the streets, in the alleys, in the train stations and now in the train car, with one rat trying to get cozy with our tired subway rider. There even is a video of Pizza Rat, a rat dragging an entire slice of pizza down a flight of stairs.
Never-ending Rat Nightmare
New York has always had a problem with rats, but nothing tops the rat situation this year. According to New York Post, the city’s 311 hotline has, so far, received 8,335 rat complaints. That’s 18% more than the number of calls recorded during the same period last year and 39% more than that of 2014.
In January 2015, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene gave the name “Rat Reservoir” to the area between Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue along the 103rd and 109th streets in East Harlem. Why they did that is anyone’s guess –maybe because people keep running into rats as large as small dogs.
The number of rats inhabiting the city is also a mystery no one can solve. Two years ago, a young man working for his doctorate calculated an estimate of two million rats, but there is no way to prove the number. Maybe residents would be just happy to know that the joke that there is a ratio of one rat for every person is not true. Or is it?
Rats are all around, and residents are scared they will start taking over the city if they wanted to – with their reported intelligence, they probably can. The fact that no one knows just how many rats there are in the city is a problem in itself and the only thing residents can do is to report as many sightings as they can, so exterminators can kill as many of these stinking rodents as possible.
Residents have been trying to curb down this vermin problem, with minimal results. The pesky critters have survived through the years. In 1994, city workers buried poison down in burrows in Central Park during “Rat Tuesday,” but the rats still endured. Last year, Mayor Bill Blaiso vowed to eliminate rats with the $2.9 million city-approved budget to create an integrated pest management plan that includes the creation rat-proof trash bins powered by solar energy and the establishment of a rodent task force that will seek out and target rat reservoirs. Still, the rat continues to endure, causing the residents much annoyance and fear. Residents must also come to grips with the home and property damage these species of rodents cause, not to mention the health hazards they bring.
R.A.T.S. Chasing Rats
Some parts of New York are seeing a glimmer of hope, thanks to a group of residents who call themselves Ryder’s Alley Trencher-fed Society or R.A.T.S. Instead of using rat bait or poison to eliminate rodents, R.A.T.S. members release their best buddies – their pet terriers – to hunt, catch and kill rats. Established in 1995, the Society is composed 40 terrier owners, whose backgrounds are as varied as the breeds of their terriers.
Why terriers? Despite their size and innocent appearance, terriers are natural hunters that are bred specifically to go after rodents. They are full of energy, making them ideal for hunting those furry pests. They also like digging, which is perfect for going after burrowing rats. And because they have long tails, their owners can easily pull them up if ever they could not get free from the burrow.
The idea of starting R.A.T.S. started simply enough. A park superintendent had asked Richard Reynolds, a business consultant and dog aficionado, for help about rats in the park. Reynolds brought terriers to the park, which scared the rats away. Since then, Reynolds and like-minded friends and terrier owners have been going on rat hunts. They were even featured on CNN’s Somebody’s Gotta Do It. They have also gone on hunts with visiting terrier lovers and owners from countries, such as Egypt, Australia and New Zealand.
The group is not really after ending the city’s problem with rats; what they are after is preserving the breed of the working terrier. Still, they have made a good impression in areas where the dogs have been hunting, like Riders Alley, theater Alley and other streets in Lower Manhattan. Wishing to continue giving their dogs the opportunity to follow their natural instinct to hunt, the group is always on the lookout for new areas. This is why they encourage residents from New York and New Jersey to contact them for signs of rat infestation. The best part: they work free of charge. However, before they begin any hunt, they must first check the area and make sure that it is safe for the dogs.