Bay Area woman breeding, releasing rats raises concern


Trending on Facebook

More popular and trending stories

Authorities are trying to keep track of a San Francisco woman who was breeding rats in her room at a residential hotel then releasing them in public parks. But they say their hands are tied as far as trying to stop her.

She's been nicknamed "Rat Girl" by the people who've followed her behavior over the years. The situation is no laughing matter, however, because her affection for rats could endanger her health and the health of the Bay Area public.

Video shot in April of 2011 of a room in a San Francisco hotel packed with piles of filthy clothes, a dirty mattress and dozens of rats burrowing in and out of the debris was obtained on Thursday.

More popular and trending stories

Animal Care and Control officials say the then-resident, a 43 year-old woman known as "Erica J.," bred hundreds of rats in the room. By the end of May 2011, San Francisco's Public Health Department said it had exterminated a thousand rats in the room and neighboring areas.

"The rats have actually burrowed into other people's rooms," said Animal Care & Control Captain Denise Bongiovanni. "They can carry disease; they can carry parasites."

"I was immediately concerned for the well-being of Erica," Bongiovanni said. "I believe that there's a serious underlying mental health issue that needs to be addressed and it seems to be unresolved."

Bongiovanni said that in the last three years, Erica J.'s social worker, landlords and members of the public have reported her for breeding the rodents.

At one point, Bongiovanni said Erica J. lived under a Japantown pedestrian bridge and brought her rats with her.

"She had the rats living off of a cart and apparently some of them had escaped and were burrowing into an area near a pedestrian bridge," said Bongiovanni. "Our officer went out and tried to locate them and tried to collect them, but was unable to at the time."

The latest incident happened May 8. Bongiovanni said a passerby reported Erica J. was living with at least eight rats in a park. Video shows rats eating out of a plastic bowl filled with dog food.

"The officer that responded noted that they had been there for some time. They had actually sort of dug a maze and had areas to tunnel and burrow," said Bongiovanni. "We collected seven, unfortunately I believe one of them was really sick and died in transport. We impounded the rest."

Bongiovanni said the department has been able to adopt out some of Erica J.'s domesticated rats over the years. Sick and feral ones have either been euthanized or exterminated. Bongiovanni said the woman has surrendered some animals but suspects she hides others.

"She has come across as being very anxious and always concerned that she could keep a couple of rats," said Bongiovanni.

Animal Care & Control Department head Rebecca Katz told KTVU her department often has trouble tracking down Erica J. and said prosecuting her under the municipal code is unlikely to solve the problem. Bongiovanni said the woman needs treatment to prevent her behavior from harming herself, others and the rats.

"We understand that Erica has housing again in the city and I can only imagine that this situation is probably going to continue wherever she lives until she gets the help that she needs," said Bongiovanni.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in News

Where to find your faves: 5 winners from Best of Springfield
Where to find your faves: 5 winners from Best of Springfield

The Chamber of Greater Springfield announced the winners of the annual Best of Springfield competition, a fan vote with residents choosing their favorite places from in and around the Springfield area in a variety of categories, on Thursday. More than 30 businesses were recognized by the Chamber across categories such as best cheap eats, best bar and...
Eyes in the sky: Law enforcement drone-use sparks privacy concerns
Eyes in the sky: Law enforcement drone-use sparks privacy concerns

Law enforcement is increasingly using unmanned aerial systems, or drones, to search for missing people and in criminal investigations, but with new technology comes new concerns over privacy and Fourth Amendment rights. The Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office has been using drones for about three years, primarily in cases of missing persons and...
This special fair teaches important lessons for Clark County youth
This special fair teaches important lessons for Clark County youth

Oesterlen-Services for Youth hosted its second annual 4-H fall fair this week to celebrate the hard work of its residents. The activities and lessons learned through several projects can be a pathway to buildings better relationships, Oesterlen Executive Director Don Warner said. “The kids participate in the local county fair and then we have...
Hometown favorites: 3 places that make Springfield special
Hometown favorites: 3 places that make Springfield special

Sometimes, the most fascinating things about your hometown are hiding in plain sight. Here are three local landmarks you may want to visit so you can rediscover their magic all over again — or see them for the first time. Started in 1932 by Harry George “Ben” Hartman, the Hartman Rock Garden, located at 1905 Russell Ave., started...
Trump intends to release classified documents about JFK assassination
Trump intends to release classified documents about JFK assassination

In a tweet Saturday morning, President Donald Trump said he will allow classified government documents about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to be released, “subject to the receipt of further information.” Trump is facing an Oct. 26 deadline mandated by Congress for the public release of the secret documents, which include...
More Stories