St. Pete woman hoarded hundreds of rats in house

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Dec 10, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

A woman who started out with a few pet rats has found herself overwhelmed by the swelling population — hundreds of rodents invading the walls, ceiling and even kitchen drawers in her home.

But Florine Brown, 29, said the animals are more than pets; they’re her family and have helped her through difficult times.

Jill Purl, an investigation manager at SPCA Tampa Bay, visited the home on 10th Avenue South in St. Petersburg last week after one of Brown’s family members called for help, worried about the homeowner’s growing number of domesticated rats, now estimated at 300 to 500, and most of them roaming freely in the house.

Last week SPCA removed 50 adult rats and 20 young ones from of the home. Purl expects it will be another month before the house is rat-free.

Brown said she wasn’t planning to keep so many pets in her home, but the numbers spiraled out of control. She started out in 2012 with four females and one male. The male impregnated the caged females before escaping. Later, when a female escaped, they began breeding outside the cage.

“It wasn’t a big deal at first; I was in denial,” Brown said Tuesday.

She said her rats chew on her clothes and shoes, and the smell gives her headaches and dizziness. With the rats roaming in the house, she sets out food for them, and as their protector feels guilty about having to catch and cage them just to have them sent away.

Purl said Brown was “more than happy to get rid of all of them,” but Brown said she felt ambushed and betrayed by her relative, who called the SPCA, and the agency, which told Brown she would have to get rid of all her rats.

“It seemed like I didn’t have a chance to tell my side of the story, and I felt like I was being judged,” Brown said.

If she had it her way, she said, she would have caged the rats and given some of them to friends or other good homes, and gotten larger cages to keep many of them in her home while controlling their population.

Purl said there wasn’t cruelty involved, and that no criminal charges are expected to be brought against the woman.

“She just got overwhelmed and had nowhere to turn,” Purl said.

SPCA doesn’t have the capacity to take in all the rats, so the Humane Society of Pinellas is getting involved as well, Purl said. Ridding the house of rodents is expected to be a challenging task. The strategy involves sealing off rooms as they go along, however the animals can slip under doorways and are in the walls, making them much more mobile.

Brown said she caught 12 rats Tuesday afternoon, and was working on caging as many as she could. The house eventually will be fumigated, and Brown said she wants to save as many rats as she can, even if she can’t keep them.

Brown said her grandparents lived in the house, and after her grandfather died the rats gave her “something to do” to shift her focus from her grief. She said having to give them up is breaking her heart.

“I do the best I can for them,” she said. “When they’re all gone, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

While Brown said she knows she has a hoarding problem and needs to a change, but this isn’t how she wanted to handle it.

“They take something away from me that I love, she said. “It’s going to be a change, it’s going to be different.”

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