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Humane society finds hundreds of pet rats in cramped Montreal apartment

MONTREAL -- Acting on a tip, humane society inspectors recently visited a cramped Montreal apartment where they discovered reptiles, rabbits, birds, dogs and cats living under squalid conditions.

MONTREAL -- Acting on a tip, humane society inspectors recently visited a cramped Montreal apartment where they discovered reptiles, rabbits, birds, dogs and cats living under squalid conditions.

They also found hundreds of rats.

And the woman who was living with the little buck-toothed furballs?

Well, she was keeping them as pets.

"Really, a whole gamut of animals," Alanna Devine, the director of animal welfare for Montreal's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said Thursday.

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Devine believes the woman displays the classic signs of animal hoarding, which can sometimes be connected to an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

She said inspectors found as many as 40 rats squeezed into cages designed to contain no more than four of the rodents, creating filthy conditions. The creatures had also been deprived of food and water.

"This was someone who had way too many animals for the care that she was giving them," said Devine, whose organization persuaded the woman to hand over close to 100 rats and a few rabbits.

"We're obviously happy that she did the right thing and gave up some of these animals, but we're hoping to be able to convince her to give up more in the near future."

The apartment still houses hundreds of animals, but Devine said it's difficult to charge people or seize creatures in Quebec, especially when there's no economic incentive for the owner.

She said they have to prove the animals are wilfully neglected before they can get a warrant.

"It's really a question of her feeling that only she can give these animals the best care, so working with someone like this (to) encourage them to give up their animals is certainly a good way to ensure for their well being," Devine said.

Dr. Gary Patronek, a veterinarian and pioneer in the research field of animal hoarding, said some people get a rush, much like any other addiction, when they buy a new pet.

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"It's really about what the animals provide for the person rather than what the person provides for the animals," Patronek, vice-president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, said in a phone interview.

Patronek, also an assistant professor at Tufts University, said animal hoarding can sometimes fall into the obsessive-compulsive disorder model and is often tell-tale sign of an underlying problem.

"We think (animal hoarding) has probably always been out there," he said. "In fact, it may have been there hundreds of years ago."

On Thursday, many of the rats, which SPCA staff soaped and scrubbed after their arrival earlier this week, scooted around their spacious cages. Others snored in their fleecy, rodent-sized hammocks.

The critters will be up for adoption, either in Montreal or at rodent rescue shelters in Ontario, where some of them are headed.

Devine, who scooped up several of the rats and gently scratched their heads, predicted those who have already raised them will snap these ones up quickly.

"People think of them as these aggressive, dirty animals,"she said.

"It's quite the opposite. They're quite calm and clean and gentle and really make wonderful pets."

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