New York City’s ‘rat daddy’ gives tours of the city’s rat population

New York City’s self-described ‘rat daddy’ has taken TikTok by storm with his tours of the city’s infamous rat population.

Throughout his “Rat Tok” series, Kenny Bollwerk has filmed the polarising rodents dashing across sidewalks, climbing trash cans, and every now and then, crawling across bodega snack displays. Bollwerk’s videos - often set to instrumental music - typically have him narrating the rats’ activity, detailing what they’re up to and where they’re headed.

As of May 2023, he’s also begun to offer tours of the city’s most rat-infested areas and told Gothamist that, as of now, nearly 100 people have participated so far. He said he’s taken tourists from all over the world on these rat tours, which ordinarily cost $50 per person for an hour.

Bollwerk revealed that guides his tours by following the “rat map,” a public database from the mayor’s office that identifies the neighborhoods with the highest number of rat complaints and problems. He told the outlet that over time the rats have gotten used to his presence, knowing it’s him thanks to his headlamp, “They’ll hear me clicking.”

“It’s freaking weird,” he added. “They’ll know when the rat daddy’s arrived.”

Once he spots the rats, Bollwerk said he typically sprays them with rodent deterrent from Infinity Shields, a company that sponsors him and allows him to take sales commission if people use the discount code he advertises. The deterrent works by masking the trash’s smell and therefore confusing the rats so they don’t return to it.

With initial aspirations to become a content creator in New York City after he moved there from St Louis in 2019, the “rat daddy” explained to the outlet that his foray into rat vigilanteism wasn’t planned, but instead a happy accident.

“Everybody likes to do something fun and interesting in their life,” he added, noting that although he doesn’t plan on being the “rat daddy” forever, he’s embracing his popularity. “Whether it’s playing fantasy football, whether it’s watching The Bachelor. I like chasing down rats at night.”

He’d been posting videos on New York City-centric content - such as the best places to eat in the area - when his boss at the time suggested that he film a video on a rat-infested area. In January 2023, his rat content began to go viral. “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?”

As his “rat tok” videos have taken on a life of their own, Bollwerk finds that his popularity and career trajectory as the “rat daddy” still takes him by surprise. He added that with his platform, he wants to continue to raise awareness about rat infestations and put pressure on the city to be more proactive about the rodents. In many of his videos, he urges his viewers to file 311 complaints to force the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to address the problem, spotlighting where these rats are burrowing and sparking a call to action.

“I’m not trying to eradicate all of them,” he explained to Gothamist. “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!”

In October 2022, sanitation commissioner Jessica Tisch infamously declared “the rats don’t run this city, we do,” announcing the agency’s commitment at the time to facing the problem head-on. Since then, complaints of rats have declined to 21 per cent, according to reports. However, sanitation professionals have deemed the city’s war on rats a lost cause.

Matthew Deodato - president of Urban Pest Management- explained to the outlet that the city’s sewer systems are inaccessible to exterminators, making it nearly impossible for pest control to get to the bottom of the rat issue. He said: “They will always be able to thrive underground.”