Batman, CatGirl, WonderWoman, Wolverine and now … RatGirl! Before saying, wow, that is cool, let it be known that RatGirl is not a superhero nor a fictional character in a comic strip, but rather a public nuisance in San Francisco, who earned the name by breeding and releasing rats in city streets.
In recent years, the growing rat problem in San Francisco has been causing significant alarm among city officials and residents. This past April, local news stations covered the rodent raid in San Francisco’s popular North Beach neighborhood.
San Franciscan Molly Soracco, who works at her family’s North Beach bakery, described to KTVU that a horde of rats actually trapped her in her car when she arrived for work early one morning: “I could not even get out of my car — there were rats right outside. Me, my mom and my sister could not get out. We were screaming. They were actually running toward the car every time we tried to get out.”
City officials have identified one possible part of the city’s problem – RatGirl.
According to San Francisco authorities, RatGirl, identified otherwise only as 43-year old Erica J., has been breeding and releasing rats for years throughout San Francisco. She first came to the attention of city authorities in 2011 when Animal Care and Control discovered her closet breeding program in a Minna Street residential hotel in the South of Market neighborhood.
“It was shocking. It was disturbing on a number of levels,” recalled Animal Care & Control Captain Denise BonGiovanni. ”The rats have actually burrowed into other people’s rooms. They can carry disease. They can carry parasites.”
Shortly thereafter the city was forced to exterminate “a thousand” rats from her room and the surrounding area.
“I believe that there’s a serious underlying mental health issue that needs to be addressed,” says BonGiovanni.
Sadly, Erica was forced from the the hotel and became homeless, living under a bridge in San Francisco’s Japantown. It was unclear how long she had been there, but Animal Care and Control was alerted once again about a woman with lots of rats camped out under a pedestrian bridge. When officers arrived they found Erica and her cart crawling with her pet rats. Not surprisingly, the area around the bridge was also teeming with rats, the wild colony likely augmented by escapees from Erica’s rodent menagerie.
Then, this past May, a pedestrian reported seeing Erica living with nearly a dozen rats in a park on Golden Gate Avenue, SFGate reports. She was seen feeding her rats out of a plastic bowl filled with dog food. Dozen of other rats were seen scurrying around nearby.
“The officer that responded noted that they had been there for some time. They [the rats] had actually sort of dug a maze and had areas to tunnel and burrow,” Captain BonGiovanni told the local television station, KTVU. “We collected seven. Unfortunately, I believe one of them was really sick and died in transport. We impounded the rest.”
BonGiovanni said that her officers are now quite familiar with Erica and each time city officials intervene, she surrenders the rats seen by the officers, but likely hides the rest. Some of the confiscated rats have been happily re-homed but others, who were too sick or feral, were euthanized.
City officials are confounded about how to handle Erica and her predilection for rat breeding, which is arguably a public nuisance and health hazard, but one that the city has scant ability to control, especially since Erica often moves around.
Erica and her rats appear to be a complicated case of hoarding combined with on and off homelessness, thus prosecuting “RatGirl” is probably not going to solve the problem. Captain BonGiovanni agrees.
Fortunately this month, Erica is back in housing, rather than on the streets. But BonGiovanni laments “that this situation is probably going to continue wherever she lives until she gets the help that she needs.”
Since Erica’s hoarding behavior is spilling over dangerously to the larger community, it seems to me that the city should just pay for the best mental health care and support for Erica and see if the situation can be finally resolved. What do you think?