On a cold morning in December, Elias Schewel enters a community garden in Bushwick followed by his two small dogs, Sundrop and Moonbeam. The dogs tremble with anticipation but not for a game of fetch. They are here to hunt.
Schewel bends down to unleash them, and they dart off, weaving around sheds and bushes, using their diminutive size to their advantage in the search for their quarry: the New York City rat.
Armed with his two companions and a smoke machine to chase rodents from their burrows, Schewel is a rat hunter, a trade associated more with the 19th century than the 21st. His company, Rat Hunt NYC, provides a valuable service at a time when a “war on rats” has become a top priority for Mayor Adams, who has tweaked garbage collection to facilitate his anti-vermin campaign. Unlike competitors that use poisons and traps, Rat Hunt NYC offers a nuanced approach to pest management by reintroducing predators to the urban ecosystem, starting at $75 an hour for residential clients after an initial $100 consultation. “If you have a rat problem on your property, burrow harassment is the best thing you can do,” Schewel explains.
At the garden, the dogs surround a toolshed with a hollow beneath — a likely place for rats to hide. The space is too small even for Moonbeam, a Jack Russell terrier, so Schewel turns on his smoke machine, a repurposed mosquito fogger that has been filled with vegetable oil to create a nontoxic (but mildly irritating) vapor.
In a flash, a rat sprints out, and Sundrop is quickly upon it. With a bite and a few shakes, the rat goes limp. At Schewel’s command, the rat is dropped, and Schewel bags and disposes of it.
The good news is that there aren’t many rats at all here. Schewel’s strategy of regular harassment has been so effective that they’ve become a rarity in this garden. If only the same could be said of the rest of the city.
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