SAN JOSE (January 2011) – Hundreds of pet rats found swarming through a bereaved man’s Los Angeles-area home are being snapped up by animal lovers across the U.S., after their story was broadcast Jan. 10 on the television reality show “Hoarders.”
“We’ve had a flood of calls and emails,” said Cynthia Cross, co-director of North Star Rescue, who helped arrange a rat-lift that brought 1,085 of the neglected creatures from the infested house in Llano to Andy’s Pet Shop in San Jose. “We were really hoping for a good response.”
The rats were discovered by authorities in November, following a tip from concerned residents of the tiny desert town of Llano. A melancholy middle-aged man named Glen, a dead ringer for actor Kris Kristofferson, had acquired three black-and-white “fancy” rats – two males and a female – shortly after his wife died of a heart attack.
For reasons unfathomable, Glen allowed the rats run of his house, resulting in a mini-Malthusian nightmare as the offspring of that single female multiplied, within two years, to a herd of as many as 2,000. Furniture in the home had been reduced to springs and sawdust, and mesmerizing footage from the program shows waves of rats flowing over floors and counters, and streaming through holes chewed in the walls.
Glen himself had taken to sleeping in a separate workshop after the rats began yanking out his hair and licking the moisture from his eyes and lips at night, making it “hard to sleep,” he said.
Teams of volunteers, including Cross, rounded up more than 1,000 of the rats, packed them onto a big rig, and brought them to San Jose, where they have been up for adoption since Dec. 5. Hundreds more rats were found in the walls after the rescue rig departed. Glen’s house was left virtually stripped to the studs and pipes.
An estimated 1,085 rats were initially unloaded at Andy’s Pet Shop, but that population boomed. “Pretty much all the females were pregnant,” said Zoe Thoel, an Andy’s employee. “Within a week we had a LOT more rats.” Cross estimates that 500 of those newborns survived, boosting the total to about 1,600 creatures.
Volunteers scrambled to separate the males from the females, and the nursing mothers from the general population. In addition, many of the rats were starved, sick and injured from fights caused by lack of food and overcrowding. But because they were never directly mistreated, the rats remained friendly and social with humans, Cross said.
Rescue rat peeks through an air hole in his travel crate
More than 500 of the rats have been adopted so far, Cross said, and she’s hoping that ongoing publicity from the show will bring in more prospective pet owners. In addition to individuals adopting one or two animals at a time, animal rescue groups from around the country are offering to take larger groups of the rats, Cross said.
“We’re working on arranging transportation for them,” Cross said.
In the meantime, life is good at Andy’s Pet Shop, where the remaining rats lounge in cages brimming with hammocks, toys, and fluffy piles of wood shavings. Thoel carries around her favorite rat, Stubs, whose toes were chewed off in a fight, and points out one chubby female who spends her days cramming seeds into her little cardboard house. “She was pretty hungry when she got here,” Thoels said.
But no one is hungry anymore. “They’re all getting kind of fat,” Cross said. “I think we may be feeding them too much.”
Adoption fees are $10 for one rat, and $5 for subsequent adoptions.