On July 29th, 2007, we here at North Star Rescue were contacted by an individual who led us to assist with a friend of theirs, who needed assistance with an overpopulation of pet rats she had accidentally bred. We were told that there were maybe 50 rats. During our visit, we would count over 140 rats and find that more were hidden from our view, roaming under furniture and nesting under a dresser.
When we arrived we were led to a small room that was stacked floor to ceiling along one wall with rat cages. Each cage was packed with rats, and when we arrived, many of them did not have water bottles for the rats to drink from, and the food bowls in each cage were empty. In most cages it was not discernable to see if there was any bedding in the cage through the layer of feces that lined every solid surface of the cages. One cage of adult males was filled with listless male rats who had visible scabs, wounds, and several had severe fur loss due to topical parasites.
We were advised by the owner that she had multiple accidental litters and had been unable to keep the females from slipping through the bars into the cages with the males and becoming pregnant. While we were taking pictures of the rats, we observed one female slip through a gap in the bars of one cage and start to climb along the stacked cages. There were two cages that were packed with nursing mothers and their litters, as well as babies that had not been gender seperated into different cages. Several of these babies had reached sexual maturity and had not been seperated, which would result in rats being put through the stress of pregnancy at far too young of an age.
Many of these rats began to develop problems due to advanced inbreeding. According to the owner, several of her rats had been born without tails, without feet, or with other deformities. We cannot honestly say that these were genetic defects or that the rats may have lost them due to fighting and injuries that come with many adult rats living in packed conditions with little resources to share.
The first day, we removed 14 male and female rats. One small female, a blue hooded dumbo eared girl, had a neurological disorder that reduced her walk to a drunken, lurching stagger. Three days after coming to our rescue, she gave birth to six babies. One of the babies was stillborn. This small female rat would lurch from side to side, tending to her litter before passing away suddenly two weeks later. Her babies were hand raised from two weeks of age, and one would die deemed a "failure to thrive", a compromised rat with her mother's neurological disorder who did not have enough time to nurse.
These animals were in very poor condition. They were living in filthy conditions without medical care. One rat had it's eyes crusted shut with porphyrin, another was covered in scabs from scratching with overgrown nails at parasites. Another rat was missing part of his tail, and it ended in a blackened scab that was crusted with feces. While we were there, one loose rat appeared from underneath a dresser. The owner caught the rat, and then released her again, citing that the female rat may be nursing babies living under the dresser.
After taking pictures of the rats and their conditions, we pulled ten rats back to our rescue for treatment and to be put up later for adoption. We contacted San Jose Animal Control, who went to the residence and removed a further 21 rats which we took in. These 21 male rats were infested with fleas, mites, and suffering from multiple injuries that may have been bite wounds or injuries from broken cage parts. Several were missing toes and parts of their tails, and several had broken feet that had calcified into crooked positions.
After pursuing the case into September, Animal Control told us as of 9/20 that they were continuing the investigation and would contact us when they had more information. The case had been dropped for the year, possibly when they believed that the owner had established a more manageable set up for the animals.
At the end of February, 2008, Animal Control contacted us again advising us that they had an overpopulation of rats, including four that they had removed from a hoarding situation. Upon further discussion with Animal Control, we found out that the case had been reopened and that this time, all of the rats would finally be removed from the residence.
We took in four male rats from Animal Control at the end of February, and an additional sixteen babies from Animal Control on 04/21. Unfortunately, many more have been removed from the residence and have had to be put down for medical reasons. We will be continuing to work with San Jose Animal Control to remove all of the rats and place as many as we can back up for adoption after they have cleared a medical hold with us.
The Final Update
In 2009, we received word from Animal Control that the owner of the rats had surrendered all of her cages and equipment and would not be keeping pet rats anymore.