California woman arrested for elder, animal abuse after dad, 96, found in home with up to 700 rats, cops say

A California woman was arrested after authorities discovered her 96-year-old father and multiple pets living inside a home in conditions described as "not fit for human living" with up to 700 rats inside, officials said Tuesday.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Office said in a news release Catherine Ann Vandermaesen, 65, was arrested last Thursday on suspicion of felony elder abuse and misdemeanor animal abuse after authorities visited the home in Ojai, located northwest of Los Angeles.

Sheriff's deputies had originally paid a visit to the home Wednesday for a “check-the-wellbeing” call initiated by Ventura County Adult Protective Services after Vandermaesen was suspected of not properly caring for her 74-year old sister.

This undated booking photo provided by the Ventura County Sheriff's Office shows Catherine Ann Vandermaesen, of Ojai, Calif.

This undated booking photo provided by the Ventura County Sheriff's Office shows Catherine Ann Vandermaesen, of Ojai, Calif. (Ventura County Sheriff's Office)

The sheriff's office said when deputies made contact with Vandermaesen and her sister, they did not want the deputies to enter the home and "insisted all occupants at the location were fine." Deputies also asked to see the sisters' 96-year-old father, but both daughters would only agree to bring the man out in a wheelchair after refusing to allow deputies inside.

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When officers came back to the home the next day, they discovered "excessive animal fecal and urine matter" throughout the entire home, in addition to floors and countertops piled with trash. Eight dogs, two rabbits, a cat, a parrot and 55 pet rats ended up being removed from the home.

“The house of horror. It was dirty, there was paper on the floor, dog crap all over. It was uninhabitable and very unsanitary.” 

— Neighbor Karin Rudio

"According to Ventura County Animal Control and Humane Society of Ventura County – Ojai, they estimated another 200 to 700 wild rats were still loose and residing within the two bedrooms dwelling, walls, garage and garbage located throughout the residence," the sheriff's office said.

Photos released by the sheriff's office show the filthy conditions inside.

Eight dogs, two rabbits, a cat, a parrot and 55 pet rats were removed from the home.

Eight dogs, two rabbits, a cat, a parrot and 55 pet rats were removed from the home. (Ventura County Sheriff's Office)

“The house of horror,” neighbor Karin Rudio told KEYT-TV. “It was dirty, there was paper on the floor, dog crap all over. It was uninhabitable and very unsanitary.”

"Excessive animal fecal and urine matter" throughout the entire home, in addition to floors and countertops piled with trash.

"Excessive animal fecal and urine matter" throughout the entire home, in addition to floors and countertops piled with trash. (Ventura County Sheriff's Office)

Rudio said that rats from the home ate all her flowers, and said hundreds of rats have come through her back yard and ruined her belongings.

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“Rats! Pet rats, I don’t know," she said. "For some reason she is fascinated with rats."

Ventura County Sheriff's Detective Joseph Preciado told the television station that Vandermaesen was in charge of the care for her father and all the animals in the residence. It also wasn't the first incident with Vandermaesen, with prior reports of these same issues, the station reported.

Deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff's Office discovered the scene on Thursday.

Deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff's Office discovered the scene on Thursday. (Ventura County Sheriff's Office)

"That is why we are able to arrest her for the elder abuse charge and also for the animal neglect charge,” Preciado said.

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Vandermaesen's elderly father and her 74-year-old sister, who deputies described as a "possible victim," were taken by ambulance to a hospital. Authorities did not disclose their conditions.

Officials said that county authorities assumed custody of the 96-year-old, and helped the sister get temporary housing services. The city of Ojai later "yellow" tagged the home, declaring it "unlivable and a danger to the occupants and animals" due to the conditions inside.