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Rescue groups take in rats, snakes seized from South Side home

September 21, 2018

As Animal Care Services staff settled their latest charges in temporary quarters two weeks ago, ensuring the 415 rodents and 136 pythons were safe and comfortable, new worries cropped up.

It was, after all, the largest and perhaps most unusual seizure in the agency’s history.

“It’s not the first time we’ve brought in rats or snakes but it’s the first time we’ve brought in hundreds of rats and snakes to ACS,” said agency spokeswoman Lisa Norwood.

Creating temporary, species-specific housing for the new arrivals was one thing; trying to find permanent homes for them was another matter entirely

ACS officials needn’t have worried.

Just hours after the call for help went out, several specialized rescue groups responded from around the state and even Oklahoma.

RELATED: ACS releases photos of snakes picked up in biggest animal seizure in city’s history

Last week, on the day the animals’ owner surrendered them, nearly all the rats and mice were picked up by Central Texas Rat Rescue, Dallas/Ft Worth Rat Rescue and Our Little Rat Rescue of Oklahoma to be taken to new homes, where they will be welcomed as pets.

Most of the snakes, including the two that were 15 feet long, were taken in by a reptile rescue group that asked to remain anonymous.

“The number of partners we have made it that much easier to deal with the situation,” Norwood said. All rescue groups that work with ACS are vetted before they become partners.

The few remaining rodents and snakes that are still in ACS care are receiving medical treatment and will stay there until they’re well enough to be adopted.

ACS officers seized the animals from a South Side home Sept. 5 after receiving complaints they were living in dirty, crowded conditions. They found the animals living in stacked tubs in an outdoor shed and inside the darkened, packed house, which had no electricity or running water. The rats and mice were used as food for the snakes, which owner Thomas Eichelberger said he was breeding for sale.

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Her grandson killed another gator in the same pond when he was 5 years old.

Friday, Eichelberger surrendered ownership of all the animals before the start of a custody hearing at San Antonio Municipal Court .

Norwood said that members of Central Texas Rat Rescue from Pflugerville were so excited to help that they threw a party to build rodent-friendly housing units to accommodate their new arrivals.

And members of Our Little Rat Rescue drove 466 miles from Oklahoma City to pick up 135 rodents from ACS. According to their website, the rescue group takes in gerbils, guinea pigs and hamsters as well as mice and rats.

“They’re all my spoiled babies,” founder Karen Peeler, 47, said during a phone interview Thursday.

Peeler, who raised rats as pets when she was younger, said they can be trained to use a litter box. Two bedrooms in her home are dedicated to rodents, where the rats from San Antonio are quarantined for four weeks. After the quarantine is over, they will be going to their new homes.

She said problems crop up when people get rodents on a whim. A dog may have a litter of eight puppies, she said, but a pet rat owner could end up with a litter of 20.

She acknowledged a large number of people are petrified of rats.

“I think people just have to get past the fear that they have,” Peeler said.

RELATED: Stolen ACS dog found, suspect arrested from West Side home

“The Travelin’ Rat,” a group that offers resources to help rescue groups that take in rats, says there are at least 70 rodent rescue groups in the United States.

Co-founder Danielle Stanley said people often question why someone would have a rat as a pet.

“They’re very misunderstood,” Stanley said. “I wouldn’t go play with rats in the sewers, but I do respect them. These are domesticated pets. My rats are litter-box trained and want to interact.”

She said rats are actually loving animals and easier to care for than a dog.

“Some rats will even kiss you and if you’re lucky your rat may nibble groom you because he or she may consider you another rat in their group,” Stanley said. “If you can’t have a dog, you may want to consider having rats.”

Vincent T. Davis is a reporter in the Greater San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | vtdavis@express-news.net | Twitter: @vincentdavis

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