SAN ONOFRE, Calif. (AP) It all started four years ago, when he caught a baby rat at San Onofre to feed his pet Sri Lankan python. But when he saw the furry little critter squeaking for its life, the lifelong animal lover said he didn't have the heart to let it become just another snake snack.
"I couldn't stand it," he told the San Clemente Dispatch. "I took the rat out of the cage and got to know it." After that, "Big T," as he is known to the locals, was hooked on the rodents, which he described as gentle, lovable and an endless source of entertainment. He caught four more at the beach the next week.
Last week, animal control officers discovered more than 2,500 rats in Big T's small, one-bedroom home after a neighbor complained about the foul smell. He was cited for misdemeanor animal cruelty.
Big T said a recent bout of flu and bronchitis kept him from maintaining control of the fast-breeding population. "I did not set out to do this," he told the paper. "It was not all my fault," he added. "It was this force of nature that overwhelmed me."
His house, in a quiet middle-class neighborhood, reeks of urine, the San Clemente Dispatch said. The floor is covered with the chaff of feed mixed with rat droppings, and everything is gnawed on, including the sheetrock walls.
When animal control officers arrived, they found rat cages stacked ten deep. The rats appeared well fed and cared for, and very active.
Big T admitted that he felt some relief when the rodents were confiscated, noting the "crushing burden" of caring for them. He said he was buying up to 5000 pounds of rat food a week.
Most of the rats are doing very well said Nancee Tavares, manager of San Clemente Animal Services. Tavares said that the rats would be released at San Onofre Beach on Friday because the original parents came from an area known as "Old Mans" at that beach, and returning them to their original environment would be the ecologically sound thing to do.
While there are some upset that there will be thousand of rats released upon the beach Friday, others are planning a barbecue for Friday evening. "We barbecue every Friday," said Jack Daniels, pictured here, "and it's about time someone else restocked the area."