It Was Dogs vs. Rats in Nighttime Tribeca Garden Raid

Jimmy Hoffman helps rat-hunting dogs get to their hoped-for prey. That hole came up empty but another one proved more productive. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 29, 2014

For all their feverish digging and dogged determination, the four-legged hunt­ers were coming up empty in Tri­beca’s Bogardus Garden one night last month. Finally, it seemed, the thrill of the chase was winding down to a mere playdate for seven frisky canines.

It was rat-hunt night in the triangular garden at Reade Street and West Broad­way and these dogs were not having their day. Only a single rodent had been en­countered and it had fled into the night.

“We lost one already, come out the back door,” said a disappointed Richard Reynolds, leader of the loosely organized assemblage of rat-hunting dogs and their owners who had gathered in the park for a night’s work. Reynolds had come from Tenafly, NJ, with Catcher, his Bendlington terrier, to join the hunt.

Others had traveled with their pets from as far as Pennsylvania and as near as Brooklyn. 

“They just want us to come and turn their soil,” joked another dog owner standing nearby.

This was their third visit to the site, invited by Friends of Bogardus Garden  president Victoria Weil. Hurricane San­dy, and the lengthy reconstruction of nearby Chambers Street, plus restaurant garbage on the corner, have turned the garden into inviting accommodations for the vermin, and a big expense for the volunteer group.

“This is a huge cost for us and a huge issue,” said Weil, who put the annual bill for baiting every two weeks at $4,000. “We’re not like, ‘Oh, man, rats, bummer, too bad.’ We’re actively spending money and time trying to win what is a very difficult battle.”

Weil said she views the complimentary rat-killing service as more humane than poison, and possibly having its effect, even if the kills are few to none.

“When the rats feel threatened in their safe home they think twice about staying there,” she said. “The dogs disrupt their lifestyle and rats communicate.”

No one wants to rid the site of rodents more than Anne Patterson, the volunteer in charge of the garden.

“I want the garden to look pretty but I can’t grow anything if the rats are out there,” noted Patterson, who said the tunnels hinder the plants’ roots.

As for the rat hunters, “They’re free!” she exclaimed. “It’s a win-win.”

Bad as the rat problem is in Bogardus Garden, it offers slim pickings compared to other hunting grounds, garbage bags being especially fruitful, Reynolds said.

“We try to put together eight dogs and mix it between the short and long-legged ones,” he said. “The short-legged ones will go into the bags and force the rats out and the long-legged ones will catch them on the run. That’s the theory. It doesn’t always work that way.”

Reynolds said the “gentrification” around City Hall has brought a halt to some of the best hunting—Theater Alley and Ryders Alley in particular. They were the “mecca,” he said.

“There used to be Irish bars that would put out clotted blood and all kinds of food,” Reynolds said, waxing nostalgic. “Now there’s basically none. So we’ve moved uptown a little bit to the Lower East Side.”

The hunt, these owners say, gives their dogs the chance to do something they’ve been bred and trained to do.

“He’s a working dog,” Nancy Bek­aert of Saugerties, NY, said of Moz, her young Border terrier. “He’s a puppy but he’s got his nose to the ground and he knows what he’s here for.”

“I feel that they’ve made such foofoos out of all the dogs and it’s so nice to have a group that’s really working,” Bekaert added, gesturing to the other four-legged figures running and digging in the dark.

The group had all but given up for the night when a commotion came from the north end of the garden, near the gate. There, in the beam of a flashlight, Jimmy Hoffman’s Patterdale terrier, Mighty C-4, and a Bedlington named Orion were clawing at the dirt as Reynolds and Hoffman helped out with shovels.

“Got a nest. Bingo!” Hoffman shouted.

“I hear ’em squeaking,” a woman announced.

Hoffman pulled up clumps of dirt and with it eight or nine newborn rats, less than a thumb’s length and wiggling. He placed them on the gate post.

“Okay, now I’ll give you some numbers for your article,” Reynolds said. “Ges­tation period is 21 days, the average litter is 10 to 12, the mortality is next to nothing. One year, one pair of rats, you’ll have 24,000 rats.”

The night’s haul, placed in a plastic bag to be delivered to a Fordham Uni­versity lab, will be analyzed to determine the “family” that the rats belong to, a clue to where they came from, Rey­nolds said, and how they might be stopped.

Asked for a postmortem on the eve­ning, Reynolds had just a few words, and a smile.“We had a good night,” he said.