We walk to the other side of the housing project, to a large cement courtyard. Even here there are rats. They emerge from one hole, run across a small section of the courtyard, pick at a piece of garbage, and disappear into another hole. Residents going in and out of the apartment building pay zero attention to them.
I tell Reynolds I have never imagined there could be this many rats in the open in a residential area. It’s skin-crawling.
He shakes his head in agreement. “This is only one of two places where I’ve been attacked by rats,” he says. “There’s no effort to contain them here. Nobody cares.”
3. Six Dead Rats
In Theatre Alley, where George Washington once walked, the hunt is on.
It seems almost choreographed, organized anarchy, like a football play emerging from a line of scrimmage. The dogs are released at once, with the short ones, the lineman, leading the charge, diving head first into the bags, burrowing, scaring out the rats. The bigger dogs, the receivers, hold back somewhat, and then dart off on long routes once a rat is spotted. Their owners are the coaches, running up and down the sidelines, calling the plays, encouraging the players.
Wearing rubber gloves, she places the bloodied rat in a plastic bag.
A rat bolts, running along the edge of a sidewalk toward an escape hole, where one a group member has placed a rock. Finding its escape route blocked, the rat shoots for a black bait station nearby to hide.
“He’s in there,” someone shouts. “Big guy.”
Reynolds flips the bait station lid open and the rat darts out. Merlin, Judy’s border terrier with the yellow vest, follows in pursuit, and in a split second the rat is in its jaws. Merlin shakes it violently until it is dead, and then jogs the carcass to Judy, who grabs it out of Merlin’s mouth and shakes it again, for good measure. Wearing rubber gloves, she places the bloodied rat in a plastic bag.
One dead rat.
The hunt continues for a few minutes. Same routine. Small dogs scare out a rat from the stack of garbage. The rat tries to escape, a dog pursues, and the rat ends up dangling from a set of jaws.
Before long, however, things have calmed. The dogs look a little bewildered: no more rats. They sniff around the bags. They bark at one another. They pee.
Paco the terrier didn’t get any rats tonight, but he did get a bagel.
“Pretty skimpy garbage tonight,” Judy says.
“You’re not eating the garbage, are you?” one R.A.T.S. member yells to her dog.
“Paco didn’t get any rats tonight, but he did get a bagel,” a man named Bill says.
Just when the hunt seems finished, Reynolds finds a small rat hiding in a bait station. When he opens the lid, the rat dashes, the dogs go wild, and then the rat disappears into a brick wall.
A moment later, it’s back out again, with Merlin in pursuit. In an instant, Merlin, tonight’s star, has the rat in his mouth, and the rat joins the others in the plastic bag.
When all is said and done, New York City has six fewer rats – their fur wet with blood, lined up on a piece of plywood in Theatre Alley.