At first it’s an occasional sighting, but, by sheer numbers, rats become unwelcome guests very quickly. While English soldiers were away stopping Napoleon’s armies from spreading across the Continent, rats from Norway were invading their homeland.
It was bad news for those who were having their animal feed raided and their own food stock plucked. It was good news for those who embraced the new occupation: rat catchers. Some entrepreneurs found business where they lived, eking out a living. Others were employed by municipalities while a few lucky men found themselves elevated to royal catchers working for the king.
In an era when gentlemen were known to bet on anything, the abundance of rats became part of a favorite gambling sport. Ratting competitions or rat-baiting gave some rat catchers added income as they provided the bait for dogs and other animals. In a 12-foot square rats were turned loose while bets were placed on how many rats each dog could kill in a specific amount of time. They were gory, generally frowned upon, and well-attended events.
Though rats are pets to some, they tend to illicit icky feelings of aversion. I have to admit I’m in this group though I have I always been inclined to avoid them rather than get rid of them... until they started invading our back yard when they discovered our smorgasbord of chicken feed. That’s when I discovered rat catchers by a different name still exist.
Notes along the way… Jeanne McElvaney
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