Catherine Ann Vandermaesen was arrested on suspicion of felony elder abuse and misdemeanor animal neglect

By Steve Helling
March 21, 2019 10:32 AM

A Southern California woman has been arrested after deputies discovered her 96-year-old father living in a filthy home infested with up to 700 rats.

According to a news release from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, Catherine Ann Vandermaesen, 65, was arrested on suspicion of felony elder abuse and animal neglect.

On March 13, deputies received a call from the Ventura County Adult Protective Services (APS). According to APS, Vandermaesen was initially “suspected of not properly caring for her 74-year old sister,” the news release reads.

But when the deputies made contact with the two sisters, they realized the problem inside the home ran deeper than previously suspected.

Inside the rat-infested house in Ojai, Calif.
| Credit: Ventura County Sheriff's Office

“Once the deputies made contact with Vandermaesen and her sister, they did not want deputies to enter the residence, and insisted all occupants at the location were fine,” the statement continues. “When the deputies requested to see their 96-year-old father, both daughters said they would bring him out in a wheelchair, but refused to allow deputies access into their residence.”

Because authorities suspected that the home’s living conditions were deplorable, a sheriff’s task force returned the following day.

“As deputies responded to the residence, the ammonia smell associated with urine was detected 20 feet from the residence,” the statement reads. “Once the task force had assessed the overall situation, they learned that Vandermaesen had allowed her elderly father to reside in conditions not fit for human living and willfully caused or permitted the health of her elderly father to suffer under the specific living conditions noted on scene.”

Another shot of the rat-infested house

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Eight dogs, a cat, a parrot, two rabbits and 55 pet rats were removed from the home. Animal Control estimated that “another 200 to 700 wild rats were still loose and residing within the two bedrooms dwelling, walls, garage and garbage located throughout the residence.”

An ambulance transported Vandermaesen’s elderly father and her 74-year-old sister, who deputies also described as a “possible victim,” to a nearby hospital.

Rats in a cage inside the home

Vandermaesen was arrested on suspicion of felony elder abuse and misdemeanor animal neglect. She has been released on bond, and will next appear in court on April 2. Court records do not list an attorney authorized to speak on her behalf. Vandermaesen did not immediately return a message for comment.

Vandermaesen’s father and sister have been turned over to the care of Ventura County Adult Protection Services, which has helped them find temporary housing.