Petaluma animal control workers expected to find a horde of cats when they knocked on the door of a 67-year-old man whose neighbor complained of stench. Instead, they stumbled onto a scene straight out the movie, "Willard."
About 1,000 pet rats -- ranging from 3-year-old adults to little, pink newborns -- shared the one-room house with Roger Dier.
Dier kept nearly all of his small furry friends in about 20 huge cages that he lined up around the room. About 20 of his rats were running around loose, said Nancee Tavares, Petaluma Animal Services manager.
He also shared the place with seven cats.
"His bed was in the middle of the room, and there was food, cat litter and who knows what else all over the floor," Tavares said.
Whatever else was on the floor wafted into the noses of neighbors, who complained to animal services about what they thought was the smell of cat urine coming from Dier's house.
When Dier opened the door to the Animal Services workers on Tuesday, he told them that he had only seven cats, but added that he did own "a lot of rats," Tavares said.
Animal Services confiscated the rodents Tuesday and spent about $1,000 dollars for cages that are serving as temporary homes at the animal shelter.
Dier was cited for misdemeanor animal cruelty. He kept as many as 50 rats in each of the 30-by-24 inch cages -- crowded conditions, but most of his pets were otherwise well-fed and cared for, Tavares said.
"He made some attempt to segregate the males from the females, but he just became overwhelmed," Tavares said.
Dier also purchased about 250 pounds of rat food every week, she said.
Neighbors described Dier as a quiet man who sometimes worked a computer-related job at night. They said he lived in the home -- one of four in a complex -- on the 800 block of Bodega Avenue for 17 years, and sometimes, they added, he didn't have enough money to pay for electricity.
Dier's landlord, Saverio DiTomaso, said he recently sold the four-house complex because of the headaches that Dier and the rats have caused.
"I could smell the piss from the cats, and then when I saw the rats I went berserk," DiTomaso said. "I didn't want to report him though because I felt sorry for him."
DiTomaso said Dier promised to get rid of the rats. About two weeks ago DiTomaso went against his policy and entered Dier's house. He found that the rats had dug holes through the basement to the yard outside.
"I think it was a dirty trick because I trusted him," DiTomaso said. "I knew there were cats, but rats?"
Neighbor Dave Blake said he killed one of the rats, which strayed too close to his home.
"I can't envision anybody living like that because I hate rats," Blake said.
Animal Services will put the adolescent male rats up for adoption for $5 each starting Tuesday. They will put the females up for adoption in 21 days -- their usual gestation period -- to make sure they aren't pregnant.
About 70 rats were euthanized because they were sick or injured, Tavares said. That leaves the shelter with more than 900 rats.
Tavares doesn't expect many will be adopted. Those that are not adopted will be euthanized, she said.
"They're not that popular," she said. "But they're nice pets, believe it or not. They're very social, they like to ride on their owner's shoulder."
Tavares hopes Dier, whom she described as a "classic hoarder," doesn't face any charges or additional citations.
She hopes he will submit to mandatory monitoring by Animal Services and be allowed to keep no more than two rats.
"Hoarders have a 100 percent rate of recidivism unless some action is taken," she said.
Petaluma animal control workers have experience dealing with hoarders. In 2001, they found 196 cats living inside a Petaluma home owned by a San Francisco resident, Marilyn Barletta.
Anyone interested in adopting a rat can reach Petaluma Animal Services at 707-778-4396.