Before the advent of broadcast sports or animal rights legislation, a night at the pub used to mean one thing: watching small terriers snap the spines of dozens, if not hundreds, of rats. Sporting men placed bets on how many rats a dog could kill in a set period of time. Nowadays, dog breeds bred to hunt rats, rabbits, badgers don't get much of a chance to exercise their killer instincts. The Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS) in New York, however, have figured out how to harness their dog's inborn talents in order to make a (small) dent in the city's rodent problem.

The group, which has been around for 15 years, travels to prime hunting ground – garbage-filled alleys – with their dogs in tow. The dogs learn after only a few hunting trips how to kill on their own. In contrast to the typical stereotype of the overly-precious urban pet owner, the group members seem eminently practical: "Mr. Reynolds said there had been a few lacerations to the dogs from rat bites and other mishaps, but nothing serious. Still, he said, he carries “a traveling field hospital” in his truck, just in case, and a staple gun in his pocket, to mend wounds."

For anyone who thinks rat-hunting is gross, most of the games that we play with our dogs, from fetch to tug-of-war, emulate chasing down and disemboweling prey. RATS merely makes the connection between play and hunting explicit. As for the unfortunate rats, a swift death at the jaws of a pedigree dog may be preferable to a lingering one from poison or traps.

Read more over at the New York Times.

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