Known with a chuckle as the Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society — parse the acronym — the rodent-hunters have been scouring downtown byways for more than a decade, meeting weekly when weather allows.
On a couple of recent nights, an eclectic group of ratters converged on an alley near City Hall about an hour after sunset. The lineups included two border terriers; a wire-haired dachshund; a Jack Russell terrier/Australian cattle dog mix; a Patterdale terrier, an intense, no-nonsense breed that's uncommon in this country; and a feist, a type of dog developed in the American South to tree squirrels.
"Get 'im! Go!" Serge Lozach yelled as his cairn terrier, Hudson, streaked down an alley after a fleeing rat. Unlike many of the other owners, Lozach doesn't breed or show dogs, but he has taken Hudson to several alley hunts.
"I like watching him have fun," Lozach said.
Although the dogs have hunting instincts, it takes training to capitalize on them. Just because your pet runs after backyard squirrels doesn't mean it could ever catch one.
When at its best, the alley pack works together. One dog will sniff out a rat and signal its whereabouts, often by barking. Another leaps at the hideaway to rout the quarry, and then a third lurches to catch it as it flees. A rat that scuttles into the open might get caught in a rundown, or even a tug of war, between dogs that circle and flank it.
After making a kill with a bite or a shake, the hunters trot back, rat in mouth, and allow their owners to take it from their jaws. The night's kill ends up in a trash bin.
There's no official estimate of how many rats rove the city's streets, basements, parks, and subways. But there are plenty.