“No one in Manhattan is ever further than 30 feet from a rat,” explains Richard Reynolds, a long-time associate of the Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society, or R.A.T.S. for short. And in New York City’s legendary rat abundance, Reynolds and associates find huge recreational opportunities–hunting Norwegian rats with savvy 8-dog packs. Reynolds colorfully describes how and where rats are hunted, strategies, rat characteristics and habitat, dog breeds and, associated perils– like why first-timers should definitely duct-tape their pants! Something to talk about next time a mouse scurries across your camp kitchen or duck blind, y’all don’t dare want to miss this unique hunting adventure episode. The willies alone are worth it!

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Dog People

You hunted birds with American water spaniels and everybody listening, primarily waterfowl hunters, we’re all dog people. Dogs bring such an integral, a vital part to our sport. 

Ramsey Russell: And welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, man, have I got a story for you all. New York City, what kind of hunting opportunities could possibly exist in the metropolitan area of New York City? Joining me today to explain those opportunities and I’m telling you, folks, listen up, this is a great story is Mr. Richard Reynolds of the Ryders Alley Trencher Fed Society. RATS for short. Richard, how are you? Thank you very much for joining us.

Richard Reynolds: Good afternoon, my pleasure.

Ramsey Russell: And I understand you were born and raised in New York.

Richard Reynolds: Well, in New York state, but not New York City. I come from Syracuse originally, which is the fine land up near the Great Lakes.

Ramsey Russell: What is your background in terms of hunting and fishing? I know pregame, we talked about a lot of different things, but what is your background?

Richard Reynolds: Well, I hunt for the sake of hunting, I hunt for the sake of my dogs. And I grew up hunting birds over American water spaniels and eventually started breeding beagles for the show ring and hunted those and finally acquired some English foxhounds and took over mastership of a recognized fox hunt for 15 years and found myself living and working in New York and acquired some terriers that were a little smaller and easier to handle and have switched to hunting with those at this point. So in my old age, I’m a terrier guy. But basically, we’ll hunt anything that moves. I’ve been known to hunt armadillos and if you’ll hunt armadillos, you’ll hunt anything. Somebody told me that God invented those so that you rednecks could have possum on the half shell. Well, that was good enough for me. So we started hunting armadillos with the terriers.

Ramsey Russell: Yes, sir. You’ve mentioned fox, you’ve mentioned previously raccoons, you’ve been down to my neck of the woods hunting wild hogs and immediately I recognize you as a houndsman. You hunted birds with American water spaniels and everybody listening, primarily waterfowl hunters, we’re all dog people. Dogs bring such an integral, a vital part to our sport. Don’t you agree?

Richard Reynolds: Yeah. My friend of mine has a tagline, she says, life’s too short to hunt with an ugly dog and I kind of subscribe to that. I like working with my dogs, I like spending time with my dogs. But more important, there is absolutely nothing that amazes me more than seeing dogs work together in hunting anything. And whether that’s one dog honoring another dog on a point or whether it’s terriers backing each other up or whether it’s hounds working together to find the line and get away, it’s dogs working together. They’re a lot more sociable than people. So even if the hunters can’t get along, the dogs do and they give us support.

Ramsey Russell: The title of your organization, the Ryders Alley Trenchers Fed society, acronym RATS. What is Ryders Alley Trencher Fed? What does this all mean?

Richard Reynolds: It means that back 30 some odd years ago, a bunch of guys went out trying to find a name that created the acronym RATS. So one of the first places we hunted was in lower Manhattan at a one block long, one shaped alley down there named Ryder’s Alley. And not by accident, Ryder’s alley figured in the American Revolution and it also figured in the evolution of rats in New York City. Some of the early patriots lived there and it was home to thousands and thousands of rats, so many that they actually set up a rat pit in the New York colony and that was the form of sport. We didn’t have baseball and soccer and those things, but we did have a rat pit and it was operated by a gentleman by the name of Kit Burns, who was an unholy individual. But he ran the rat pit very well, and that was not too far from Ryder’s Alley. So not only is it the center of our organization, it’s the center of rats and ratting in New York City.

Ramsey Russell: How did it figure into the Revolutionary War? Just because a lot of patriots live there?

Richard Reynolds: Yeah. The guy who lived on the corner of Ryder’s Alley and Nassau Street, I believe, maybe it’s William street figured it. And they went up and they set up a pole a couple of blocks away in front of what’s now city hall and that was the Patriots pole. And they actually incited a good bit of the American Revolution. They weren’t a popular group, but just a little bit of history. Another place that we used to hunt was a place called Theater Alley and we would have named the group Theater Alley, but then we wouldn’t have had rats. But that was an alley that George Washington used to use to go to the legitimate theater when he was in New York. And he’d go in the back door of the theater so that nobody would recognize him and he would go up theater alley. So it always amused me that I was busy killing rats in the place where George Washington had gone to the theater, I kind of like that association.

Ramsey Russell: Ryder Alley must be close to a port or something. I’m guessing that’s why the origins of all the rats, because these aren’t like, we’re not talking native mice when we talk New York City rats, this is some kind of import. Like, what kind of rats are we talking about?

Richard Reynolds: Well, we’re talking about Norwegian rats and you’re absolutely right. It’s next to the, at that point, was the only port in the city and it’s now the mystic seaport in New York, it’s a museum. But it was the site of the Fulton Fish Market, it was the site of the early shipping in and out of the colony of New York and it’s about at least a block away from Ryder’s Alley, it’s right there. So we had all that. And the Norwegian rat is what’s prevalent in New York, although we have a very few incidents of black rats, but you’ll never see them. There’s a few here, but they’re not prey. So reddish norvegicus is what we hunt for the most part.

Ramsey Russell: And what is the Trencher’s Fed portion of you all’s title? Trencher Fed, what does that mean?

Richard Reynolds: Well, back in the old days, we had your very glamorous hunts. In fact, it’s not the old days, it’s today, where you have your well financed hunts and the hunt keeps a pack of hounds and the hounds live together in a very plush kennel and they eat in a feed room that has a long trough, they all eat together and they eat from the trough. Well, if you’re a scratch pack, one where the hounds or the dogs are kept with the hunters and only come together to hunt, that’s called a Trencher Fed Pack because they eat from round bowls, round wooden bowls at the time in the homes of the hunters rather than the troughs. So they are fed from a trencher rather than a trough. So it’s a word that deniers, a scratch pack that meets only occasionally.

New York Norwegian Rats

He did a very efficient job as Brooklyn borough president and he had rat summits that we attended.

Ramsey Russell: Tell me a little bit more about these Norwegian rats. How big are they? Are they big?

Richard Reynolds: Well, that all depends on who you talk to. Our average sighting of a rat, it was as big as a cat, it was as big as a small dog, they’re not that big. They’re not as big as alligators and there are not alligators in New York sewers, that’s a myth. But the very largest Norwegian rat comes up to about 800 grams. 800 grams and a little bit more. And that’s just shy of 2lbs.

Ramsey Russell: A 2lbs rat.

Richard Reynolds: And nobody has ever been able to produce a 2lbs rat.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Richard Reynolds: So there’s a gentleman who has a standing reward out of $10,000 for anybody that can bring him a 2lbs Norwegian rat. And I will admit that I’ve spent nights pushing fishing sinkers into some dead rats to take them down to him, but so far it hasn’t worked, he’s found me out every time.

Ramsey Russell: And these are big black rats with skin tails. Is that what a Norwegian rat looks like? I’m thinking of a big black rat with a ball tail.

Richard Reynolds: Now, they all have ball tails, almost all species of rats have ball tails. But the Norwegian rats are rather pleasant looking guy, he’s brown, they’ve got fair sized ears, they take pretty good care of themselves, they’re not nearly as dirty and nasty as the world would like to think and they carry a lot fewer diseases than the world would like you to think. But still, a fellow wrote a book some years ago, the book was entitled Rats and the subtitle was New York City’s most unwelcome inhabitants, and they are. It seems that the whole city has, since colonial times, been declaring war on rats, not very successfully. There are secrets, but nobody’s gotten around to doing them yet.

Ramsey Russell: I read on Drudge Report, I think, just this week that New York City has now hired a rat czar.

Richard Reynolds: Well, truth be known, we’ve always had a rat czar and we’ve been involved with them, the first rat czar was a gentleman by the name of Dr. Robert Horrigan, who is from the Midwest and he contracted, but he was a rat guy, not a politician. And the second guy that tried the job was a friend of ours, Dr. Jason Munshi South, who has done a great deal of research, scientific research into New York City rats. Once again, he was a scientist and a rat guy, not a politician.

Ramsey Russell: Right.

Richard Reynolds: And what our mayor wanted was a politician that could bring all of the departments of New York City together and it remains to be seen whether she’ll be able to do that or not. The interdepartmental competition amongst New York City departments is both legend and bloodthirsty. So if you can get them all working together, maybe something will be accomplished. But our current mayor, Eric Adams has had a history of concern with rats, long before he was mayor. He did a very efficient job as Brooklyn borough president and he had rat summits that we attended.

Ramsey Russell: Rat summit.

Richard Reynolds: Well, trying to let people know what they could do to mitigate the rat problem and there were meetings held for landlords and tenants and residents of the Brooklyn borough. We still have those, we call them a rat town hall and they’re well attended, but they don’t have a great deal of effect in the long run.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard stories over the years – Now, look, I grew up with a generation, Richard, I remember as a child watching a movie called Willard and it was some guy, I presume from New York City that commanded all these rats to attack people and it’d be just bucket loads of rats crawling around on people. But I have read news reports of children in different areas being bitten, being attacked by rats and it gives me the willies.

Richard Reynolds: Well, I only know your average Norwegian street rat, you may have to bleep this out later, it is one mean motherfucker and there isn’t any other word that you can put into it. If you have an 800 grams rat, less than 2lbs, that’s going to take on a 286 pound guy, you’ve got one courageous little creature down there and they will do that. But the only believable incident that has ever been recorded was a woman who claimed and could prove that she was attacked by a herd of rats on the north end of theater alley back in the 1800s. And other than that, we get rats that run at us and charge us and they certainly inflict a certain amount of injury on the dogs, but nobody is going to get attacked by a band of rats, that’s not going to happen.

Ramsey Russell: But have you ever heard of children, like, asleep in their apartments and a rat just come out and bite them or gnaw on them?

Richard Reynolds: I’ll answer your question, no, but we wouldn’t hear about it.

Ramsey Russell: I see.

Richard Reynolds: What we do get are calls of single rats in apartments and nobody wants to listen to the penthouse owner who lives on the 65th floor, who has a rat in his bathtub. So we get calls and we go, we answer every call we get in the hopes of finding someplace we can hunt. But yes, there are rats that get into individual apartments, they go in through the plumbing primarily, and a lot of our pre-war buildings have hollow walls, so there are passageways within the walls for them to get in there and it’s not a big thing. I don’t know for sure of any person that’s ever been actually bitten by one, but the exposure isn’t as much inside as it is outside. Our public meeting places are public meeting places for rats as well, because they generate a certain amount of garbage and the garbage is the key to the rats. There’s more rat exposure when you’re walking down the street than there is in your apartment.

What Is the Rat Problem in NY City?

There’s no way that you can quantify the amount of rats. 

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Have the number of rats in New York City ever been quantified? How many rats are there? I mean, what kind of problem are we talking about? Billions, millions, gazillions.

Richard Reynolds: Many have tried and all of them have failed. There’s no way that you can quantify the amount of rats. We get tremendous media response, are the rats increasing? Everybody says the rats are increasing. If you look at the New York City interactive rat sighting map, it shows twice the amount of sightings as last year, there aren’t any more rats. Rats are fluid. If you just picture a tide of rodents moving through the city, to some extent, they’re nomadic and they’re going to go where there’s food, water and shelter and if you destroy that in any one place, they’re simply going to move to the next one. So if you’re a New York City resident, you say, well, there were no rats here last week, but there is today, there must be more rats. Well, it’s just a guy from down the block that moved up town. The only estimate that I’ve ever heard that I give any credibility to and there have been all kinds of scientific studies done on it, but if you’re in Manhattan, you’re never more than 30ft from a rat and I believe that. You won’t see them, you won’t hear them but they’re there almost everywhere.

Ramsey Russell: Tell me about the origins of the Ryder’s Alley Trenchers Fed Society. What are the origins? When did it start? Why did it start? How was it organized?

Richard Reynolds: Well, it’s never been organized. We want to get around to that someday, but so far we haven’t. It doesn’t exist. It started at a dog show, canine beauty contest, where one of the ladies was grooming her dogs and she was just overrun with rats that lived there and kind of liked the dog food and the other stuff she had with her. We thought, well, let’s put the dogs in there and take care of that, so we did. These were just plain old terriers, nothing special. And the superintendent of the state park saw it and said, hey, could you come back after the park closes and help us with the rat problem? And the impetus for starting was the fact that most places poison rats or try to. And the poison of choice is warfarin, a warfarin derivative which is an anticoagulant. The rat has to ingest it for about a week to get a toxic quantity and then it bleeds to death internally over another 4 or 5 days and usually comes out of its hole to die and barf blood in front of the tourists and all kinds of things like that. So the superintendent wondered if we could help him and we started doing that for a number of years and that kept us, everybody happy. But eventually the time came when we got rid of most of their rats for them and we had to move across the river to a new supply, which was Manhattan and we’ve been there ever since. But that was about 30 years ago.

Hunting Dogs for Finding Rats

Ramsey Russell: 30 years ago, you all been going on. I want to talk about the dogs. Tell me about the dogs you all are hunting with. What species of dogs? How are they trained? Is it just an innateness that they have for finding rats? I want to go into the dog. What dogs are used? I’m thinking terriers, rat terriers, feist.

Richard Reynolds: Well, we love any dog will kill a rat. A French bulldog will kill a rat. The ones that are good at it and the ones that will come back next week and do it all over again, are the hardwired dogs that most of them were actually bred for ratting. And they’re easy to train, they’re easy to come by, they’re easy to keep, well, not all of them, but many of them are easy to keep. And they make a good all around dog for ratting and you can keep them active, keep them employed for a number of years. They do take some initial training to light the fire and we have our training facility down in southern New Jersey where we actually breed rats for training the dogs and we breed a hybrid rat that’s half wild and half domestic to train the dogs on and they live long, happy lives, the training rats are never killed. But they do have an attitude typical of a street rat and they’re docile enough so that you can handle them. So you get a little bit of training down there, then it’s on the job training, you take them out and you work them on the street and decide which job they feel like they’re good at. And after that, on the job training, they’re as game to go as the person that owns them.

Ramsey Russell: So when you all go out to hunt these rats as a club, you’ve got just a variety of different dog breeds. Rat terriers, maybe French bulldog, you say, got to be some Jack Russell Terriers, got to be as energetic and aggressive as they are.

Richard Reynolds: Jack Russell’s and the associated breeds are one of the mainstays of our dogs. When we hunt, we only use 8 dogs, we don’t allow any more than eight dogs and the reason for that is we don’t want to create a circus on the street, we don’t want a spectacle, 8 dogs is enough to cover all the bases, not many rats get away when we’re working 8 good dogs. Of the 8, one of them is apt to be a new dog, a green dog that isn’t made up yet fully. And the other 7 are made up of push dogs and catch dogs. The push dogs actually go into the trash, whether it’s piled on the street or into dumpsters. Some of these dogs bring dumpster diving to a new level, they’re worthy of Academy Awards for their dumpster diving skills. And you’ll see a dog go into a dumpster and actually kill the rats and throw them back out at you from inside the dumpster. But other dogs would prefer to stand off 30ft, 40ft, 50ft and wait for the push dogs to do their work and then catch the rats on the fly so they don’t get away.

On a Rat Hunt in NYC

And it may be Uptown, Downtown, Queens, Brooklyn, wherever we feel there’s a need and the possibility of getting a lot of rats, quite selfishly, we want to get as many rats as we can and wherever we think the hunting is going to be good and wherever our intelligence resources tell us that the rats are active, that’s where we’ll go. 

Ramsey Russell: Take me on a virtual hunt. I promise you, Richard, last time I found myself anywhere near New York City, I was just aimlessly following the GPS, talking on the phone, assuming she was going to take me around that metropolitan area, she did not. I soon found myself in 6 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic, crossing the New York George Washington Bridge and seeing the sign to the Bronx Zoo. I was sweating, my knuckles were white and I was glad to be gone from that city. I’ve never actually been to New York City other than that, but would like to go. And first and foremost of the things I would like to do as a tourist in New York City would be to accompany you all on a rat hunt. I just think that’d be fun. What would that entail? We eat dinner, we round up the dogs, now what? Where are we going to go and how are we going to hunt them?

Richard Reynolds: Well, we operate just like a recognized fox hunt, don’t tell anybody, but all of the stuff we do is pretty much based in the time honored tradition of fox hunting. We have a fixture card and there are probably 125 and 130 active people on our mailing list. And along about Tuesday, if the weather report looks decent and the core bad guys aren’t doing anything more important, then we decide we might want to go hunting and we send out an emailed invitation and if you’re one of the first 8 that responds, then you’re in. And the meet is usually on Friday night at an appointed hour. Now, the hour used to change, but lately it’s been 10:00 because for some reason, the rats haven’t been coming out early across the city and we don’t know why that is. So I’m not going to guess, but we meet at 10:00 at an area where we know there’s rats and where we know there’s adequate parking so that we can park the cars. And it may be Uptown, Downtown, Queens, Brooklyn, wherever we feel there’s a need and the possibility of getting a lot of rats, quite selfishly, we want to get as many rats as we can and wherever we think the hunting is going to be good and wherever our intelligence resources tell us that the rats are active, that’s where we’ll go. We meet at 10:00, we have a huntsman who is at the moment a fellow by the name of Jason Rivera and Jason kind of leads the whole party and decides where we’re going to go and how we’re going to hunt and deploys the dogs. You get told where to stand and what to do and whatever, because it’s a team effort. It’s just like a basketball sport. We have people that play positions and there’s a strategy to getting as many rats as we can. So you’re a team player and we all go along that route that we cover is apt to cover 3 to 4 miles is about average through the city streets. Sometimes we do less and I’m grateful for that, but sometimes we do more and it lasts until everybody gets sick of it. If you’re catching a lot of rats, it goes for a long time. If you’re not catching many rats, then it’s over in 2 hours, it depends on how it goes.

Ramsey Russell: So you all are covering 3 or 4 miles in an average night, you all are in positions and just walking and the dogs are up ahead of you up in the alleys?

Richard Reynolds: No, there’s a strategy. We like to hunt places where we’re familiar. In fact, we always hunt places with which we’re familiar. Just like you got a place where you know you’re going to be able to shoot ducks, you know you’re on a flyway, you’ve got your blind set up there, you know what you’re going to do. We do the same thing with rats and we know where we’re going to find rats, we even know where they’re going to run when you disturb them. A rat, by its hardwired nature, runs the same way every single night, it doesn’t vary 2 inches. So if it goes to eat from its burrow to the trash, it follows a route and you can see these roots worn into the grass where they migrate between. And it doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts to put a dog in the middle of the room.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Richard Reynolds: We have a good idea what we’re doing and it’s a set up. We’ll have the catch dogs deployed around the back, we’ll have the push dogs all come in from the front and all hell breaks loose. And if we get 30 to 50 rats out of one pile of garbage, that’s a real nice haul.

Ramsey Russell: 30 to 50 rats out of one pile of garbage, there’s rats running everywhere.

Richard Reynolds: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: That keeps 8 dogs busy, doesn’t it?

Richard Reynolds: Well, I said, any dog will kill a rat and that’s true. But the terriers have the ability to grab the rat, shake it once and throw it, which frees it up so it can kill another rat. If you get a dog that’s less trained or less experienced, it’ll hold on to the rat for too long and it’ll miss 5 and the time is trying to kill one.

Ramsey Russell: Do the handlers carry sticks or golf clubs or something to knock them when to come running by or defend yourself if an 800 grams of –

Why Tape Your Pant Legs?

And I told Mike that, you want to protect yourself here and we want you to be safe and I’m just going to tape your pant leg. 

Richard Reynolds: Not at all. I used to carry a stick, but it wasn’t for defense, it was for pounding on trash cans with. And everybody kept offering to help me up steps and so forth, they thought I was crippled. So now I don’t carry the stick anymore. But some people do carry sticks, but it’s not for that, it’s for beating on the trash cans. If you walk up and there’s a plastic trash can there, it’s a whole lot quicker to beat on it 2 or 3 times than it is to put a dog in and haul trash out of it and so forth and so on. But when we have visitors, one of the age old customs is putting duct tape around their pant legs. And we had Mike Rowe hunting with us one night from Dirty Jobs. And I told Mike that, you want to protect yourself here and we want you to be safe and I’m just going to tape your pant leg. And he looked at me and he said, well, be honest, he says, does that really happen? And I said, well, it could. And he said, that’s good enough for me, go ahead and tape him. Got through the hunt, we came on one particular little dumpster and he had a whole camera crew there, cameramen and sound men and you’ve probably seen the show, but one of the cameramen had a run up his pant leg, got into his underwear and started biting him in very inappropriate places. So if you look up the old episode, you can see that I can’t remember the cameraman’s name, but he’s now a believer in taping your pant legs.

Ramsey Russell: Holy cow. I’d had to change my underwear if something like that had happened.

Richard Reynolds: Well, there’s a shot of Mike Rowe looking at the camera saying they aren’t ever going to let us use this, and they actually did.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, my gosh. So what is a good night’s haul? What would be an average night’s haul? Have you all got a record for how many you’ve captured in a night?

Richard Reynolds: Well, actually, we don’t keep track, real well. Any number I gave you would be blowing smoke.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Richard Reynolds: If I said there have been nights when we’ve gotten 150, that would be true. If I said there’s nights where we were lucky to get one, that would be true. On 4 nights in 30 years, we’ve gotten none at all, but what’s more important to us is how many get away. And if I tell you I got 3 rats tonight, that’s not going to impress you very much. But if I tell you that we only saw 3 and the dogs got 100% of what we saw, that impresses me.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Same in duck hunting. It’s how you play the game.

Richard Reynolds: It’s what your opportunities are. If you make 100%, that’s a good night.

Ideal Weather for Rat Hunting

Ramsey Russell: You mentioned weather forecast, what weather is ideal for rat catching?

Richard Reynolds: Warm. Rats don’t hibernate, but they do slow down and they don’t breed when the weather is cold. They don’t eat every day, their metabolism slows down a little bit, they don’t breed. The warmer weather, rain doesn’t have a huge effect, but we don’t see as many, when there’s a low pressure zone moving in, they are pressure sensitive and the absolute destroyer is wind. And when we have wind through the cement canyons, we just don’t even go.

Ramsey Russell: It’s very hard for the dogs to scent. Is that it?

Richard Reynolds: Well, no. First of all, I wish the dogs only hunted by scent, but some of them hunt by a combination of sight and scent. And if you get trash blown around the city, the dogs are continually distracted by something moving in their peripheral vision and they have to run right over a rat because they’re busy watching something blowing down the street. The rats themselves don’t come out, by the same token, rats are runners. In other words, their defense mechanism is to flee if they see movement peripherally, they’ll flee when it’s just a trash bag running, blowing down the street. So we try not to go out during, when it’s windy.

Ramsey Russell: You mentioned, like, core bad guys. You said if the core bad guys aren’t too active, can you elaborate on that? Because you are in New York City. You said, you all check the weather and what the bad guys might be doing. Do you have problems with people when you’re trying to do this?

Richard Reynolds: No, we don’t. In fact, quite to the contrary.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Richard Reynolds: We have a loyal following.

Ramsey Russell: Like a peanut gallery that comes around.

Richard Reynolds: Well, it’s all the local residents, we don’t allow bystanders for a number of reasons. If you come out with us, we’ll say, okay, fine, you’re more than welcome to come out, but you have to handle a dog and we’ll get your dog to handle, so that way you become a participant and not a bystander.

Ramsey Russell: I don’t think old Char dog got much by way of rats, that’s my black lab. I don’t think she’s much by way of a rat dog.

Richard Reynolds: We have rebel dogs that we’re more than happy to give you and the dogs are grateful to get out because otherwise they’d be sitting home in the kennel. But I forget where we were going here.

Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of your public interaction.

Richard Reynolds: A lot of the places we hunt are public housing projects and the people that live there are not wealthy by definition. And they more than anyone appreciate seeing us out there because sometimes they try to get other people interested, their landlords, the city, whatever, we’re the ones that actually come and do it. So we’ve had people come out and try to give us money, come out from their apartment, say, we appreciate what you do, here’s money and of course we don’t take it because that’s not what we’re about, we don’t charge anything ever. It spoils the game if we do right. But we have a wonderful relationship with the people that live there and the New York City Police Department, we couldn’t get by without them. They’re a source of information. And if you look around while we’re hunting and you just look over your shoulder or whatever, there’s usually a police presence not too far away and sometimes they’re taking pictures and rooting the dogs on and sometimes they come up and pose for group photos with us and we just couldn’t do without them. And the same goes for the residents and the people there. So we’ve got a couple of little old ladies that live in the projects that throw beer cans out the windows at us when they come along, but we love them, too.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I thought you’re going to say they’d come out and hand you a cold beer to keep you going. It sounds like most of your best rat hunting would be maybe in the summer months when it’s warm, that’s when the rats are most active.

Richard Reynolds: Yes, but we hunt 12 months a year. A lot of times we’ll go out and we won’t do very well and we look at each other and say, well, still better than staying home.

Ramsey Russell: That’s exactly right.

Richard Reynolds: And the dogs think so, too. We’re always looking for the pot of gold, we’re always looking for the 1000 rat stash, but it doesn’t always happen that way, so we take what we can get.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve really never had a bad dog, I’ve had a lot of retrievers in my life, some are better than others. But there’s old saying, old granddaddy type saying about man’s lucky if he has one great dog, I disagree with that. But have you ever had, in your years of rat hunting, are there one or two dogs that particularly stand out and why?

Richard Reynolds: Oh, sure, there are great ones, not necessarily mine. But dogs that have hunted with us, we had a border terrier that was unbelievable. And he had a career, if you ever saw a movie called 5 Flights Up with Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton, Tanner, when he was in the alley, played Dorothy, the pet dog of the people in the movie, he was wonderful. We had mighty, a Patterdale terrier that led us for years, our huntsman’s dog. He was exceptional.

Ramsey Russell: How so? What made them extraordinary? What made them exceptional?

Richard Reynolds: As rat dogs drive, you couldn’t put the dog off, he could catch a rat through a chain link fence. I’ve got one that can do it. But no, there have been some great dogs and we have the start of one now that had a real long career of being a bad guy. He was a bad dog and wound up in a pound and I got him out of the pound and he’s just doing great this season, this is his first season with us.

Ramsey Russell: How long is a rat dog career?

Richard Reynolds: I used to hunt a lot of Norfolk terriers and I had one Norfolk that was blind and deaf, but if you put her down in the alley at 14 years old, she could still kill a rat. So until they drop one of our great dogs, Paco, we didn’t really know how old he was, turned out he was 16. But if you look at our stuff, big black and white feist dog type, he hunted on Saturday and he was dead on Wednesday, I think. So you never know. Some dogs, you want to retire them early, some of my Bedlington terriers, I retire early just because I want to give somebody else a chance.

Ramsey Russell: How dangerous is this sport for dogs? My lab, for example, she’s gotten barbed wire cuts, she’s gotten banged up on ice hunting and being outside, especially these high drive animals. A lot of these dogs are so passionate about what they do, which is why we love them so much, that they’re just full steam ahead. But I’m just thinking, man, wrestling with rats, I mean, they got to be getting bitten and stuff like that.

Richard Reynolds: They get bitten decreasingly, so as they get smart.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.

Richard Reynolds: But the young ones get bitten a lot, there’s a lot of blood, especially if it’s a tongue or an ear, we just clean it up and go on. We’ve never had a dog seriously hurt. One dog got a dumpster dropped on his foot and had a broken toe. And that’s the only significant injury or illness that we’ve had in 30 years. So my fear is a dog getting into traffic and getting killed by a car, but that hasn’t happened either, although I’ve chased a few down Broadway.

Ramsey Russell: Were they chasing a rat down Broadway?

Richard Reynolds: Yeah, taxicabs. We don’t ordinarily hunt the dogs loose, although we will if we’re in a very well contained area. And it just seemed like a well contained area, but it wasn’t.

Ramsey Russell: So have you got them on leads, long leads, while you all are hunting?

Richard Reynolds: Yeah, we’re starting to use a 15 ft biethane lead at this point, gives the dogs enough flexibility. And some of the dogs, in certain circumstances, you can let them go, it’s not my favorite thing, but they’ve got enough common sense to come back to you and whatever. So we’ve never lost a dog, we’ve never had a sick dog, we’ve never had an accident. The worst human injury we had was a lady that broke her nose and I’m trying to think of some exotic story about how she ended up with a broken nose, but the fact of the matter is she tripped over her dog and fell on the curb. So I don’t know if that counts or not, but that’s the only injury we’ve had.

A Popular Rat Crew

What seems to be, you say that a lot of these communities are very positive towards you, it seemed to be a very positive thing that you all are doing. 

Ramsey Russell: That’s fantastic. You all have really been publicized. You all have had a lot of newspaper stories, a lot of news media stories and stuff like that. What seems to be, you say that a lot of these communities are very positive towards you, it seemed to be a very positive thing that you all are doing. And you were telling me before you all even got a documentary coming out. Can you tell me a little bit about this documentary?

Richard Reynolds: Well, it’s a production company from Australia that spent a few days with us and they took a look at the entire process. I don’t think we’re the only part of the show, but they filmed for about 4 days, went down to our training center, came out to my house and we fed them the usual line of BS that we do everybody else and they seemed happy. So I’ll let you know when it comes out how it is.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, I’d love to see it, I sure would. The public, from what I can gather, you all have a lot of favorite hunting grounds, Ryder’s Alley or some different areas around Manhattan. But you do get a lot of calls and reach outs from the public, don’t you? A lot of people saying, I’ve got a rat problem. How does that process work?

Richard Reynolds: Well, we try to answer every call we get, 90% of them are useless. In order for us to hunt efficiently, we have got to have a lot of rats. Either we hunt very quickly and efficiently, or we don’t find any rats or whatever, but we’ve got to have more rats in one place than you’ve ever imagined. So we go and do reconnaissance, one of our people goes and sees whether he or she thinks we can actually hunt there. The majority of times, the answer is no, we can’t do anything for you, but thanks for calling. Clean up your garbage, next case. But we respond to every call as much for public relations as for anything.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s great.

Richard Reynolds: We couldn’t survive without the backing of the public and I don’t care what the public is, if you’ve got your druggies will stop and help us round up rats, property owners just everybody makes contact and we like to think we can move across those social barriers. One of the best nights we ever had, we had Larry the cable guy out with us and he just did us a world of good. He brought people up and of course, he wants to talk and hug everybody and whatever, but he did a world of good. The media are using us, but what they don’t know is that we’re using them.

Ramsey Russell: Of course.

Richard Reynolds: And we get our places to hunt and our calls from the media presence. And when a story breaks, I don’t care where it breaks, whether it’s in Germany or Sweden or China. China did a 2 hour live podcast of chasing rats around New York and it was just terrible. Some of my friends in Beijing called up and said, this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, it was awful. And we got calls from people who lived in Chinatown who had seen it.

Ramsey Russell: Have you all inspired other clubs? Are there other clubs in New York City or around the United States or around the world that do the same thing you all do?

Richard Reynolds: Yes. We have a sister group in Washington DC called Rat Scallions. There’s a group in Sacramento that is just starting up that is doing some hunting. My friend Jordan Reed, who is an itinerant winemaker, sheep shearer, rat hunter, virtually everything else.

Ramsey Russell: A real renaissance man.

Richard Reynolds: You took the words out of my mouth and he occasionally wears a dress, but we don’t hold that against him. But he’s been hunting farms and dairy farms and whatever for years and years up and down the Pacific coast. There are organized rat packs in England that are doing very well. Warwickshire, Lancashire, any number of them that we keep in touch with. But yeah, it’s catching on. The dog people are getting a hold of it as a legitimate out for your dog’s prey drive.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, you summed it best. Hunters hunt. Hunters hunt foxes, birds, squirrels, big game, little game and in the heart of New York City, rats. I think that’s an amazing story.

Richard Reynolds: When it’s bad, we hunt cockroaches. I’ve got some back here. We got trophy quality cockroaches.

Ramsey Russell: Richard, thank you very much for coming on. I have greatly enjoyed this, I enjoy keeping up with you all. Folks, you all have been listening to Mr. Richard Reynolds of the Ryders Alley Trenchers Fed Society, they’re on Facebook. Do you all have other social media presence, Richard?

Richard Reynolds: No, we’re limited to Facebook and that’s it.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, now you got something to talk about other than just ordinary, don’t you? See you next time.


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