GEH1201:        Rat Hoarder Case

 

Speaker:          Marlene Gaither, MPA, REHS/RS

 

Over 900 pet rats were removed from a Rat Hoarder’s house, and it took the County Health District and City of Sedona Animal Management seven months to remove all of the rats. In addition, this local health district used the public nuisance statute as well as all other enforcement options available to them to resolve this case.   Attend this session for a recap of the case, the lessons learned, and how to create a multi-agency response to challenging cases like this in your area.

 

 

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This was one of the most challenging public nuisance complaint cases I have ever been involved in during my 32 years in the environmental health field.

 

The Rat Hoarder involved a single woman that lived in a beautiful neighborhood located in Sedona, Arizona. The problem started with two pairs of pet rats (Rattus norvegicus) that she allowed to run free in her house, which were purchased to replace her beloved cat.  After eleven months of the rats breeding freely in her house, the number of rats grew exponentially and eventually destroyed her once beautiful home and eventually started to escape into the neighborhood.  Even with this extensive infestation the Rat Hoarder was still very attached to her rats (she had names for each rat and would kiss each one she picked up). She fought us on every step of the process even though she was told about the diseases that the rats may carry, or she had to turn off the power to her house because the rats had gnawed through the electrical wiring inside her house, or some of the rats were now starting to become aggressive and bite her.

 

The public nuisance process took seven months to resolve. To resolve this nuisance we relied on the assistance of the County Attorney’s Office, Arizona Vector Control Department, Sedona Police Department, Sedona Community Development Department, and the National Humane Society. We carefully followed all appropriate enforcement steps available and made sure the Hoarder was given proper due process to prevent the case from being thrown out of court. Both non-judicial and judicial law processes were used in resolving this case, which included:

 

• Issuance of a notice of violation citing the public nuisance state statute;
• Issuance of a Search Warrant;
• An Administrative Law Hearing; and
• A Superior Court Hearing.

 

Sedona Animal Control and Coconino County Environmental Health worked together on this case and removed over 900 hundred pet rats from inside her home as well as some that were trapped outside her home. The house had to be completely gutted requiring the replacement of all wall and ceiling boards, insulation, wiring, and plumbing to remove the nesting materials, urine, and feces left from the rats.