SAY WHAT? - A video posted online reportedly shows a pack of rats dashing in and out of a kennel at a Los Angeles animal shelter while a dog sits inside.
The video was one of several images showing that the East Valley Shelter has been overrun by packs of rats, according to a Sunday report from CityWatch Los Angeles. The website noted that the images were taken in the daytime during a recent weekend while members of the public were present, although rats are typically far more active in the night because they are nocturnal.
The silent footage posted to YouTube appears to show at least a half dozen different rodents skittering through gaps in a kennel cage to reportedly steal food from the dish of a dog sitting inside. It is not clear how widespread the problem is at the shelter, which is one of six run by Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS).
"The health, safety, and well-being of the animals in our care are our top priority," LAAS spokesperson Agnes Sibal-von Debschitz said in a statement to Newsweek. "This is a concern and we have been working with the City and the contractors on a number of methods to reduce the population of rats."
Since rats are known to be carriers of several contagious diseases, an infestation could potentially pose serious health risks to the animals at the shelter, shelter staff and people who adopt animals from the shelter. Los Angeles County health officials recently reported an increase in dogs infected with leptospirosis, a rare and dangerous bacterial infection that is carried by rats and can also infect humans.
"It's truly an epidemic...People [are] saying 'My dog is just not right,'" Dr. Alan Schulman, a veterinary surgeon, told Los Angeles NBC station KNBC in August. "It's the rats...They urinate places, they defecate places, dogs get it from them."
Leptospirosis can infect humans through cuts or scratches and can lead to meningitis, respiratory distress, kidney damage, liver failure and potentially death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A CityWatch Los Angeles report from last December recounted a purported email exchange showing that the shelter and at least three others run by LAAS became infested with rats while the facilities were closed to the public amid COVID-19 lockdowns.
Although pet adoptions surged during the lockdowns, Los Angeles shelters later filled up as restrictions eased and some owners returned their pandemic pets, according to Reuters. Los Angeles County shelters have reportedly revised policies to require those with unwanted pets to make appointments rather than drop in during business hours.
Rats in Los Angeles have also posed recent problems outside of animal shelters, with The Los Angeles Times last month reporting on the closing of a high school due to a "horrific" infestation. Schurr High School was forced to shut down over health concerns after teachers who had arrived at the school to prepare for the return of students found classrooms overrun by rats and covered in rodent droppings.
Update 9/28/21, 7:17 p.m.: This article has been updated to include a statement from Los Angeles Animal Services spokesperson Agnes Sibal-von Debschitz.
(Aila Slisco is a writer for Newsweek.)