San Francisco police recently found a woman living in a small room with 300 rats – and there’s not much they can do about it. The 43-year-old woman known as Erica J., or more colorfully as “Rat Girl,” has been living with a variety of tame and feral rats in a squalid residential hotel room and releasing them in local parks, making contributions to the local rat problem.

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“The rats have actually burrowed into other people’s rooms,” San Francisco Animal Care & Control Captain Denise Bongiovanni told “They can carry disease, they can carry parasites. I was immediately concerned for the well being of Erica. I believe that there’s a serious underlying mental health issue that needs to be addressed and it seems to be unresolved.”

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Bongiovanni added that over the last three years Erica’s social worker, landlords and members of the public have reported that she’s been breeding the rats. And there’s little authorities can do about it because the woman simply moves when confronted about her rats, and prosecuting her wouldn’t do much to solve the problem because Bongiovanni believes she needs treatment for her mental health issues to get at the root of the problem. “We understand that Erica has housing again in the city and I can only imagine that the situation is probably only going to continue wherever she lives until she gets the help that she needs.”

Bongiovanni says her department has tried to adopt out as many of the tame rats as possible over the years while thousands of others have been euthanized and many are still at large. But according to The Patriot News, just one pair of breeding rats can produce up to 15,000 new baby rats in a single year, leaving an uphill battle for city officials.

Via, The Patriot News, NBC Bay Area

Lead image via from Shutterstock. Flickr creative commons image byJean-Jacques Boujout