Rats aren't only a part of New York City’s underground — they're an inseparable part of its pop culture. There’s Master Splinter from the Ninja Turtles, Pizza Rat, and even Cannibal Rat. But for every celebrity rat, there’s another 250,000 to 2 million anonymous rodents living in the city — and the city health department is fighting to bring down.
Last year, three people in a Bronx city block made the news for contracting leptospirosis through rat urine. Only two survived.
To combat the problem, Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a $32 million initiative to rid New York of its signature rodents, concentrating on hyper-infested areas that the city describes as "rat reservoirs."
Multiple city agencies are currently focusing their efforts around public housing buildings, where they plan to replace dirt basement floors, block passageways and amp up trapping, baiting and poisoning efforts. They also apply dry ice to the rats’ burrow systems, effectively suffocating them as the carbon dioxide gets released while the ice melts.
But there's another, more traditional method to eliminate rats: hunting. While the city doesn't pursue this method, a small group of terrier enthusiasts doesn't care.
When dusk settles, Richard Reynolds and his vigilante rat hunters known as “The Ryders Alley Trencher-Fed Society” — or R.A.T.S for short — roam lower Manhattan’s streets and dumpsters, keeping their dogs’ instincts sharp and the hunting tradition alive.
In the three decades Richard has been hunting rats with his dogs, he says he must have killed thousands of rats. But he doesn’t really keep track.
A hunter through and through, he only counts the ones that get away.
This segment originally aired June 28, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.