CITY animal control officers have started removing hundreds of large, feral rats from inside a rental home in New Mexico.

Animal shelter director Beth Vesco-Mock said the rats – some sickly displaying evidence of fighting – are about the size of a four- to five-month-old kitten. “They’re much larger than I had anticipated Animal control officers had taken two skinny dogs and about 170 rats to the shelter by mid-yesterday, and officers estimated there were at least that many rats still hiding in the Las Cruces home.

Authorities have charged 55-year-old Debbie Martin with three misdemeanours for excessive waste, improper care and maintenance of animals and dead animal removal. Each of the charges carry a maximum fine of $US500 ($600) or 90 days in jail.

Martin did not appear to be homebound, officers said.

She “obviously let it get out of control”, Vesco-Mock said. “They had free reign of the home and she was just throwing food out for them … there’s evidence that they had been fighting with each other.

According to city animal control officer Ernest Jimenez. Officers also found the fur and skeletal remains of two dogs that were presumed to have been eaten by the rats.

The city learned about the problem when Martin called for an ambulance Monday and emergency personnel had to extract her through a window. “I have no idea what I was getting into,” said Jimenez, who’d never handled a rat-hoarding case in his 14 years in animal control. “Never, and I hope to never see it again.”

“The smell was overwhelming,” said Jimenez, who did not see any human food in the home. “She did have some rat food, but they’ve got access to everything. They’re eating cardboard, paper, stuffing out of the couches, I mean everything … you could see little bite marks on all the (bed) coverings.”

(News source: