Most New Yorkers try to avoid rats. NYC’s ‘rat daddy’ goes looking for them.

Photo of author

By Dan Sears

While most New Yorkers do all they can to avoid encounters with rats, Kenny Bollwerk spends his free time chasing after them.

He documents his efforts in a series he calls “Rat Tok” on TikTok, where he goes by the nickname “rat daddy” and has amassed more than 270,000 followers.

In his series, Bollwerk films rodents as they dash across sidewalks, climb trash cans and occasionally crawl across snack displays at bodegas.

The suspenseful videos, which are often set to instrumental music, feature Bollwerk’s brief narrations of the rats’ activity, including where they’re going and how many there are.

Bollwerk began offering tours of the city’s rat-infested areas in May, and says that about 100 people — including rat-curious visitors from around the world — have participated so far.

“They’ll know when the rat daddy’s arrived.”

After finishing his cashier shift at Philomena’s pizzeria in Queens on a recent Thursday night, Bollwerk, 36, did what he does several times a week: He donned a reflective safety vest, headlamp and gloves, and made his way to Grand Central to film rats for his thousands of online followers.

He’d agreed to give me a typical tour, which he offers for $50 a person, for an hour.

“This is a big one!” Bollwerk said as a giant rat scurried out of a hole in the ground near Bryant Park, accompanied by several friends.

“They’re eating good tonight,” said Bollwerk. “They got Chipotle.”

To determine where to go for his tours, he typically follows the “rat map,” a tool from the mayor’s office that tracks the neighborhoods with the highest number of rat complaints.

See also  Sorry, NYC Christmas travelers: The crowds are back. Here's what to know this weekend.

Bollwerk said rats don’t mind his presence and get used to him.

“They’ll hear me clicking,” he said, referring to the sound of his headlamp.

“It’s freaking weird,” he said, as he showed me a pile of trash where rats were zipping around. “They’ll know when the rat daddy’s arrived.”

But it was unclear whether the rats knew who the “rat daddy” was; most of them ran back into holes in the ground and sewers once we approached.

During the tour, we visited three spots in and around Grand Central and spotted about 30 rats. Bollwerk’s been returning to this part of town since July.

We spent about 15 minutes looking for rats at each location. Once they appeared, Bollwerk sprayed them with Infinity Shields rodent deterrent. He’s sponsored by the company and receives a percentage of sales from people using a discount code he provides. He said the spray confuses the rats by masking the trash’s smell so they won’t return to it.

A vigilante in the war on rats

Seeking out rat-infested areas wasn’t part of Bollwerk’s plan when he moved to NYC from St. Louis in 2019.

He’d been trying to be a content creator, posting short videos about topics like the best places to eat in Times Square. But after his boss suggested he film a rat-infested area for his TikTok last January, his rat content took off.

“All the effort I put into making New York City content, now I’m filming rats,” he said. “I’m like, where’s my life going?”

See also  New Yorkers back ‘right to shelter,’ but hold ambivalent views on housing migrants

Bollwerk said the attention he’s garnered as “rat daddy” surprised him, and added that he wanted to use his role to spread awareness about rat infestations and nudge the city to take action.

In his videos, he galvanizes his viewers to file 311 complaints to force the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to address the problem.

“I need everyone to call 311,” he said in one video that showed mice crawling along a food rack at a bodega.

“I’m not trying to eradicate all of them,” he said during my tour. “But I am trying to control the population in certain areas. They shouldn’t be running in food that you’re buying because look at that. It’s disgusting!”

Bollwerk said he repeatedly visits an infested area — and repeatedly urges his followers to contact 311 — until the health department resolves the issue, which could mean spraying a construction site with rat poison.

An unwinnable war

Rats are a perennial problem across the city.

In October 2022, Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch declared “the rats don’t run this city, we do,” emphasizing her agency’s commitment to mitigating the problem.

Since then, by some metrics, the city has made progress in the war: Complaints about rat sightings decreased 21.2% from June 2022 to June 2023, according to 311 data analyzed by Gothamist.

A pilot project in Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood requiring residents to bin their garbage led to a 68% decrease in rat sightings, according to data shared by the sanitation department on Saturday.

See also  Online stardom is a lifeline for absconded Newark bull, other escaped livestock

In March, a law requiring all businesses to put their trash in containers is set to take effect and reduce the number of trash bags left on city streets.

Still, to some extent, the war on rats is unwinnable.

Matthew Deodato, president of Urban Pest Management, whose company has helped mitigate rats on the Upper East Side, said rodents are here to stay.

“They will always be able to thrive underground,” he said, noting the city’s sewer systems are inaccessible to exterminators.

Bollwerk said that although he doesn’t want to do “Rat Tok” forever, he enjoys meeting people from all over the world. He said he’s embracing the attention and is also selling “Rat Tok” hoodies for $40.

“Everybody likes to do something fun and interesting in their life,” he said. “Whether it’s playing fantasy football, whether it’s watching ‘The Bachelor.’ I like chasing down rats at night.”

You can book a “Rat Tour” and find more information on Bollwerk’s website.

Rate this post

Leave a Comment