A rat-catcher is a person who kills or captures rats as a professional form of pest control. Keeping the rat population under control was practiced in Europe to prevent the spread of diseases, most notoriously the Black Death, and to prevent damage to food supplies. In modern developed countries, such a professional is otherwise known as a pest control operative or pest exterminator.
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Anecdotal reports suggest that some rat-catchers in Europe would raise rats instead of catching them in order to increase their eventual payment from the town or city they were employed by. This, and the practice of rat-fights, could have led to rat-breeding and the adoption of the rat as a pet—the fancy rat.
A famous rat-catcher from Victorian England was Jack Black, who is known through Henry Mayhew's interview for London Labour and the London Poor.
Rat-catchers may attempt to capture rats themselves, or release "ratters", animals trained or naturally skilled at catching them. They may also set a rat trap or other traps.
Modern methods of rat control include traps, poisoned bait, introducing predators, reducing litter and clearing of current or potential nest sites.
A "ratter" usually refers to a dog used for catching or killing rats. This includes specially-bred terriers for vermin-hunting, which may be known as rat terriers, although the latter may refer to a breed that was historically developed in rat-baiting.
Conditions and risks
Rats are rarely seen in the open, preferring to hide in holes, haystacks and dark locations. A rat-catcher's risk of being bitten is high, as is the risk of acquiring a disease from a rat bite.
The oldest picture of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hamelin
Death to the Rats, Edmé Bouchardon
Frustrated Rat Catcher (Ittan (Japan, circa 1820–1877), Los Angeles County Museum of Art
In popular culture
- A famous fictional rat-catcher was the Pied Piper of Hamelin; different versions of his story have been adapted into a variety of media works.
- In the DC Comics Universe, one of Batman's enemies is the Rat Catcher, alias Otis Flannegan, who was employed as a real rat-catcher for Gotham City. The Rat Catcher occasionally orchestrates rat plagues using his uncanny ability to control rats.
- Rat catchers make a major appearance in Dario Argento's The Phantom of the Opera (1998 film).
- Ratcatcher (1999), written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, is her debut feature film.
- Colin "Chopper" Mozart, rat-catcher, was featured in an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus
- The character Charlie Kelly from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia was responsible for catching and exterminating rats at Paddy’s Pub.
- Rat-catchers appear in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss (1860).
- British author Roald Dahl's short story, "The Ratcatcher", was collected in Someone Like You (1953).
- Serafina, the Chief Rat Catcher of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. Serafina is a fictional character created by author Robert Beatty and was first introduced in Serafina and the Black Cloak, a spooky, historical fiction novel. Serafina's mysterious adventures grew into a trilogy (Book 2: Serafina and the Twisted Staff, Book 3: Serafina and the Splintered Heart) and the fourth book in the series is due for release in summer 2019.
- The humorous ballad "The Famous Rat-Catcher" (c. 1615)--sometimes referenced by the first line, "There was a rare rat-catcher"—evokes both the material culture of contemporary ratting and the verminous conduct of a particular practitioner. A fellow rat-catcher also carries treatments for venereal disease; it is not clear from either the song or the editor's commentary whether this was a common part of the rat-catching trade.
- List of books and articles about rats
- Rat trap
- Ratcatcher's Day
- The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
- Trench rats
- ^ Mayhew, Henry (1851). "Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin". London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 3.
- ^ Batman: Arkham Asylum character bios.
- ^ "Shakespeare/Michelangelo/Colin Mozart [ratcatcher]" (1970) http://www.montypython.net/scripts/shakespeare.php
- ^ Dahl, Raoul (September 13, 2012). "The Ratcatcher". Goodreads (Kindle ed.). Penguin. ASIN B008QXLFEI.
- ^ "Books". robert-beatty.com.
- ^ The text and woodcut illustration of this broadside ballad were reprinted in Hyder E. Rollins, ed., A Pepysian Garland: Black Letter Broadside Ballads of the Years 1594-1639, Chiefly from the Collection of Samuel Pepys (Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 60-65. The Library of Congress holds an original broadside: https://www.loc.gov/item/2007681612/. The text appears, with melody, in Ross W. Duffin, Shakespeare's Songbook (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), p. 326 et seq. The Baltimore Consort's performance is included in A Trip to Killburn: Playford Tunes and Their Ballads (Dorian, 1996; DOR-90238).
- Ike Matthewsan. Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-catcher at Project Gutenberg—1898 account of the tricks of the trade, by a British rat-catcher