PEORIA, Ariz. - Days after a body was found inside a Peoria home with clear hoarding issues inside, crews are finally addressing a rat infestation problem that has troubled the neighborhood since.
FOX 10 first reported on the incident on Sept. 23, which happened near 87th Avenue and Bell Road. Fire crews responded to a hazmat situation at the home after a neighbor reported smelling an odor coming from the area.
The victim has been identified by police as a woman in her 60s. Her body was already decomposed when she was found.
Police are investigating her cause of death, but they say it appears she likely died of natural causes. Her identity and the official cause of death will be confirmed by the medical examiner. Officials said Peoria Fire and Medical crews have responded to medical calls at the home on a regular basis, and the woman who died was known to first responders.
Home condition described as "deplorable"
At the time of the incident, first responders said they were not able to get inside the home due to hoarding and unsanitary conditions inside, and had to use a robot and drone to look inside.
Police say this is a hoarder-type situation, and conditions inside the home has been described as "deplorable."
Neighbors cringe at sight of rats
Since the woman's body was found, people living in the area have been dealing with the aftermath.
"The very next day, on Friday morning, I was talking to one of the police officers, and he said it was one of the worst things he's ever seen in 30 years on the service," said Justin Grubb, who lives in the area. "He said the ground was moving when they finally got into the house, and then all of a sudden, my neighbor says, 'hey, You know I'm going to be putting some traps and stuff out.' I go 'why? what's wrong?' 'Yes, well, you heard about the rats. They're out here."
Neighbors believe the woman who lived at the home had about three dozen snakes and several feeder mice.
"I know she had pythons and got mice to feed the pythons," said one person living in the area, who did not want to be identified. "I would see her around with her little pythons. I would imagine the pythons are much larger."
Experts believe the infestation likely began after the woman died.
"Some rats got out and started their own population, mostly likely have consumed all the available food in the house and most likely the deceased, now they’re getting out because there's no food left," said Mike Boyle with Burns Pest Elimination.
People living in the are area are hoping for the rat problem to be over.
"I have 50 of them in our yard at least. I have video and pictures of them by my front door," said Megan Lortes. "I have to carry my kids out when we leave the house, which isn’t often because we're scared to leave."
"Hundreds if not thousands of rats up and down our street, in our backyards, in our garages," said Grubb. "It's disgusting. It is. It's absolutely disgusting."
Besides rats, Grubb said there's also a problem with odor.
"I have to pass the house to go get my mail. You smell it. You smell that house," said Grubb. "I honestly thought it was my trash."
In a video that Grubb took outside of his home, rats can be seen out and about. Grubb said his cat has been a big help in keeping the rats out of his home, but that is not the only thing he and his family are worried about.
"I have surgery coming up, and just you think of diseases, you know. It's not just COVID we have to worry about. We have rats now bringing disease, possibly, and likely into our households too. So it's just disgusting, and it's something that we want the county to help us out with," said Grubb.
City officials: Some contractors refused to deal with problem
According to police, a next of kin would typically be responsible for addressing the rat situation, but the woman who died lived there alone. City of Peoria officials say it has taken them nearly a week to find a contractor that would accept the job.
"We’ve been trying to reach contractors, It's taken us until today to find one," said City of Peoria Human Services Director Chris Hallett. "About 12 different contractors who, before showing up on site or otherwise, were not willing to do it."
City officials say the current contractor they have hired will first contain and exterminate the rats. Then, they will clean up and clear out the items in the hoarder house. Officials estimate the efforts will take at least 10 days.
Humane Society, rat rescue group members tried to round up rats
In an e-mail, officials with the Arizona Humane Society said they learned of the situation on Sept. 27, and they have reached out to local police for more information.
"These rats are domesticated, meaning they are pets and not the type of rats that can make it on their own without human help," read a portion of the statement.
On Sept. 28, AHS, along with members of the "Any Rat Rescue" group, were out at the house, trying to round up and catch as many rats as possible, so that they can treat them and eventually adopt them out as pets.
Some neighbors told FOX 10 they are annoyed that rescue groups are on scene, putting food out and trying to save the creatures.
"I’m annoyed by the Humane Society to be honest. There’s no saving the rats, just kill them and get rid of them. I’m tired of dealing with this," said Lortes.
People involved with the rat rescue efforts, however, say the rodents could make kind and caring pets, and should be saved.
"They are kind, sweet animals, like a cross between a cat and a dog," said Jenna Lillibridge with Any Rat Rescue. "Least likely to bite, also least likely to spread disease."
"The nephew has just told us there are 3 cages with approximately 100 rats in each cage inside the house," said Tracy Miller with AHS. "Those that have stuck around here, we will try and humanely capture."
Crews estimate besides the at least 300 rats inside the house, there are hundreds more outside.
"Right now, the ones I’ve seen have a lot of hair loss," said Miller. "It could be from hoarding and living conditions. Could be mange, could be ringworm, could be a variety of things."
Residents tried to deal with problem
Even before animal rescue crews arrived in the area, some nearby residents have taken it upon themselves to deal with the problem.
"We have used 16 pounds of rat poison, and we can't control them. They're in my front yard. They go in my door, right by my front door," said Lortes.
Meanwhile, another person living in the area has built a mouse trap, using a garbage can and a piece of plywood that some hope will allow rats to climb and then go into the garbage can.
"I want them to tent up the house," said Lortes. "I want it to be taken care of."
Pest control owner weighs in
Manny Perez, who owns Icon Pest Control, investigated the premise of the home for nearly an hour.
"I’ve been out here for 30 to 45 minutes, and I have seen a lot of activity," said Perez. "I can see someone was feeding them. There's a lot of dog food out here."
Perez said he is offering free initial treatment to the rest of the neighborhood. He believes rat poison is the right way to go, before the rats quickly reproduce.
"To really get it under control, the fastest way is to use the bait stations," Perez said.
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