In Europe, the rat-catching profession had humble beginnings, born out of a massive rat problem. Impoverished individuals with lifelong experience in dealing with rodents took on the role of rat hunters, often getting paid per rat they eliminated.
Some rat catchers sought inventive ways to enhance their trade. They employed dogs and ferrets to track and capture rats, sparing themselves the dirty work of crawling on the floor.
In an unconventional approach, some even bred their own rats, releasing them to attract customers seeking their services. This practice gave rise to “fancy rats,” unusually colored designer rats that became fashionable pets.
Jack Black, a famous rat catcher, played a key role in popularizing these fancy rats. They were so popular that even Queen Victoria had a taste for them. Rat catchers didn’t stop at catching rats; some ventured into the world of rat fights, exploiting a legal loophole.
This cruel practice involved betting on how long it would take a dog to defeat captured rats in a pit. But despite these controversies, and the dangers and unsanitary conditions of their work, rat catchers played a vital role in controlling the rat problem, particularly when larger and more menacing rats from Norway appeared in the 18th century.
Top image: Rat catcher: Source: Wellcome Images / CC by SA 4.0.