Animal Law

Is it legal for dog owners to hunt rats in New York City? Police take a laissez-faire position


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Seeking an activity to help keep their pets’ minds and bodies busy, dog owners in and around New York City have found one that kills two birds with one stone, so to speak: Hunting—and killing—rats in trash-strewn alleys in lower Manhattan.

The New York Times (reg. req.) describes one recent event, in which there was no shortage of sport for terriers and other canines straining to be let loose by their owners on the Big Apple’s rodent population. Focusing on alleys, the humans involved put a dog in a Dumpster, at one point. A stream of rats soon poured out a hole at the bottom and the other dogs gave chase. Once caught, a rat can be quickly dispatched with a shake or two of the dog’s head.

“You guys can do that?” asked Andrew Luan, 42, when he ran across the rat-hunters while walking his 12-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Chloe. “I mean, you won’t get tickets, the city’s OK with that?” Assured that city police officers cast a kindly eye on the activity and have even been known to point the group toward rat-infested areas, Luan joined with Chloe in the night’s rodent-hunting.

In fact, it appears that the group isn’t violating any city ordinances or health codes, the Times says. However, there is a possibility of dogs suffering rat bites or eating a rat that has previously ingested poison, points out Brian Shapiro, who serves as director of the state chapter of the Humane Society of the United States. He takes the position that such hunts are potentially harmful to both dog and rodent, suggesting that there may be a more humane way of killing rats.

Hunt organizer Richard Reynolds, a business analyst who breeds dogs in Tenafly, N.J., said he despises animal cruelty but believes the hunt is a kinder solution to the rodent problem than poison. A veterinarian and a veterinary technician were also among the dog-owners participating.

Officially, the city police department takes a cautious position on the topic of such hunts. A spokeswoman said there no information on whether it’s legal to use dogs to kill the city’s rats.

An Associated Press story published earlier this year provides further details. It notes that the city health department declined to comment about the legality of the group’s rat-hunting and says the dogs killed 13 rats in half an hour, during the busiest part of the evening.

A Gothamist post includes photos and provides a link to a video.

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