I Smell a McRat

McDonalds serves up a rodent, then scurries for cover

"I totally freaked out," Kelley says. "I was screaming and crying and shaking and throwing a fit. I couldn't talk. I just pointed and ran and threw up in the sink."

Says Chrissy, "It was like a horror movie."

After vomiting herself, Chrissy closes the salad lid and calls for help: the police (who tell her no crime has been committed), the health department (which warns her not to touch or surrender the rat), the McDonald's (which inexplicably asks her to bring the rat to the restaurant).

Chrissy Haley and her children: The mother of four 
agonized about the possibility of passing on rat-borne 
diseases to her youngest, Ella, who was still breast-
Chrissy Haley and her children: The mother of four agonized about the possibility of passing on rat-borne diseases to her youngest, Ella, who was still breast- feeding.
Ken Lobato's McDonald's in Southlake: The fast-food 
giant says the rat never passed through this restaurant.
Mark Graham
Ken Lobato's McDonald's in Southlake: The fast-food giant says the rat never passed through this restaurant.
Closed Location

"I was a complete wreck. No way I could've driven," she says. "All I could think about was the next bite...I was going to feed [18-month-old] Kady."

Chrissy is on the phone with Todd when Lobato finally arrives. Having turned a five-minute drive into a 25-minute wait, he carries a McDonald's sack scribbled with "Haley." Lobato is seemingly there for one purpose: rodent retrieval.

"He never asked if I was OK, never said he was sorry," Chrissy says. "He was real monotone, almost a 'Who cares?' attitude."

Chrissy points Lobato to the kitchen table, where he briefly eyes the rat, closes the lid and begins sliding the salad toward his sack.

"He told me he needed to take it. Told me I should trust McDonald's," Chrissy says. "But by then it was too late. He wasn't taking anything."

According to the lawsuit, Lobato tells the women, "This kind of thing could happen anywhere, even Ruth's Chris Steak House."

"I told him it didn't happen there, it happened at your McDonald's," Chrissy says. "But he really didn't care."

After 10 minutes, Lobato heads for the door when Chrissy asks for a card, a number, anything. To this day she carries his response in her purse. Scrawled on the top of Chrissy's original receipt: "Ken."

Chrissy takes the salad and places it in her garage refrigerator's freezer. The women sit down, exhale, and the fun really begins.

"Once I calmed down it hit me," Kelley says. "All those diseases..."

In this desensitized age of chomping eel labia and sucking bull brains for $50,000 on Fear Factor, $1.7 mil for nibbling on a salad only Shrek could appreciate seems a bargain. But this isn't the pissed-off employee spitting in your burrito or finding a pube in your soup, it's the reality of eating potentially poisonous food. "You have no idea how disgusting it is until it happens to you," Kelley says.

It's at this point you'd expect to hear from Todd, the assertive, animated passing game coordinator for America's Team. If he can regularly go nose-to-nose with Terrell Owens, surely Ronald McDonald's going to be a pushover. Except that Todd is between a rat and a hard place. He works for Bill Parcells, an old-school coach who hates modern-age distractions, especially high-profile lawsuits.

In a tumultuous 12 months Todd has been shoved by Parcells, chastised and ignored by T.O. and forced now to walk the fine line between standing up for his wife and kissing up to his boss.

"This incident has thrust Todd into the uncomfortable position of trying to be supportive of his wife without being a distraction to his career," Dallas-based sports agent and Casterline Law Firm business manager Scott Casterline relays from Todd, who declined interview requests while preparing for Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "He sincerely hopes McDonald's will follow through on its promises to accept responsibility and do what's right, so his family can get on with their lives and he can continue to help the Cowboys get into the playoffs."

Though deflecting the issue publicly, Todd has endured good-natured—albeit misguided—ribbing from his team privately. On the flight home after an emotional win over the Carolina Panthers October 29, Owens and quarterback Tony Romo served their coach a victory salad—adorned with plastic rats.

"People will try to make light of it; it's human nature," Chrissy says. "We didn't want to be ultra-sensitive because we knew they had good intentions. But I didn't think it was funny. No, I'm not over this whole ordeal. And no, I'll probably never get over it."

With her husband bolted to the background and Kelley recently returning to her native Nova Scotia to attend college, Chrissy faces her daily angst alone. She guards her comments, granting her only interview to the Dallas Observer, and even more carefully watches what she eats, concocting a homemade salad only after breaking apart heads of lettuce and meticulously washing each peeled leaf.

"All I could eat for weeks was toast or rolled-up turkey and cheese," she says. "I still sometimes start to take a bite of something and out of nowhere I start gagging, even throwing up. At a PTA meeting one of the moms brought in a McDonald's cup. It all came back to me. I got chills."

Both women have had blood and stool samples tested repeatedly over the last five and a half months and are undergoing sessions with Dallas clinical psychologist Dr. Rycke Marshall. Though each has been diagnosed with stress disorders, their physical health is clean. "I know the doctors keep telling me I'm fine, but I'm not convinced I didn't catch something serious," Kelley says. "I have nightmares that something's inside me."

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