Woman arrested after 700 rats found at 96-year-old father’s house, investigators say

A California woman was arrested after her 96-year-old father was found living in squalor among an estimated 700 rats, investigators said.

Investigators were called March 13 to check on the welfare of Catherine Ann Vandermaesen’s 74-year-old sister, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

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Deputies said Vandermaesen, 65, and her sister came to the door but would not let investigators inside the house. Both women went outside and told deputies everyone living at the house was fine, investigators said.

Deputies asked to see their 96-year-old father. The sister refused to let deputies inside but brought the father outside in a wheelchair.

Investigators learned more about the living conditions in the house, including that numerous animals were at the inside. They decided to return the next day with additional resources.

When deputies returned, they could smell the ammonia odor from urine about 20 feet away from the house. When investigators went inside, they found urine and feces throughout the house.

Ventura County Animal Control and the Humane Society of Ventura County removed eight dogs, two rabbits, a cat and an African grey parrot. In addition to 55 wild rats they found in cages, another estimated 700 rats were loose in the house, including in the walls, the garage and the garbage, investigators said.

“It was definitely one of the worse houses I’ve ever been on,” Detective Joe Preciado, who has worked with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office for 26 years, said at a news conference.

The animals were in good condition and were undergoing further evaluation. The city of Ojai is working on an abatement plan to deal with the 700 other rats, Preciado said.

Catherine Ann Vandermaesen was arrested and charged with felony elder abuse and misdemeanor failure to care for animals. She was booked into the Ventura County Pre-Trial Detention Facility and released on bond.

When deputies went to the house about six months ago it did not look as it does now, Preciado said.

“It was an unhealthy pattern that (Vandermaesen) had from a previous incident, and continued to carry that over,” Preciado said. “They basically went from a nice dwelling to the deplorable one that we walked into.”

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