ROCHESTER, Wash. -- A woman bought rats as food for her pet snakes but eventually came to think of them as "friends" and allowed them to breed and overrun her house, which will need to be razed, officials said Friday.
The rats have gnawed through wiring, walls, cupboards and drawers, "so there's no lights or heat or sewage" disposal, said Susanne Beauregard, Thurston County animal services director, on Friday.
Michele Diller, 64, who had rebuffed agencies' efforts to help her, agreed to move into an assisted living center to get her cat back, Beauregard said. The cat had been confiscated along with 11 caged animals -- four severely malnourished snakes, five mice and two rats.
"I told her I would let her have her cat back if she agreed to move," Beauregard said.
Agencies were seeking housing for Diller on Friday and considering what to do about the rats, which have begun turning up in neighbors' yards on the outskirts of Rochester, south of Olympia. They were apparently the progeny of a few that escaped after Diller bought them as snake food, Beauregard said.
"Initially she was saying, 'You can't hurt them; they're my friends,"' Beauregard said.
Diller told KOMO-TV of Seattle: "I don't have a problem with any animal."
Unlike the snakes, which were on the verge of death when they were taken to a veterinarian Wednesday, the cat was in good general health -- except for a runny nose and eyes because of the stench of rat urine and feces, Beauregard said.
The county will probably charge Diller with animal cruelty over the treatment of the snakes -- two boa constrictors, a corn snake and a king snake -- "if that's the only way to assure that she gets a mental health evaluation," Beauregard said.
Cupboards and walls were riddled with rat holes, and the bottoms had been chewed out of all the drawers. The refrigerator was on, but otherwise the electricity seemed to be "very spotty. Nothing else worked," she said.
"The house needs to be razed and rebuilt," Beauregard said.