700 rats missing in Ventura County elder, animal abuse investigation

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Posted at 5:28 PM, Mar 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-20 20:28:11-04

OJAI, Calif. (KGTV) - As many as 700 wild rats, along with dogs, rabbits, a parrot and a cat were found living in an Ojai home at the center of an elder abuse investigation, Ventura County Sheriff’s deputies said Wednesday.

Deputies were first alerted to the situation on Mar. 13, when they responded to a “check-the-wellbeing” call initiated by Ventura County Adult Protective Services.

APS officials suspected Catherine Vandermaesen of not properly caring for her 96-year-old father, who lived at the home with Vandermaesen and her 74-year-old sister.

Deputies who went to the family’s home said the smell of ammonia and urine was detectable 20 feet away from the house. Vandermaesen, they said, refused to let them into the home.

A task force of Ojai deputies and detectives said Vandermaesen allowed her father and the animals to remain in conditions not fit for living.

Vandermaesen’s father was taken to the hospital and is now under the care of Ventura County Adult Protection Services. Vandermaesen’s sister was also treated at the hospital for unknown reasons and gained temporary housing.

Animal Control officials impounded the animals, including 55 rats, but estimated as many as 700 more rats were still loose in the two-bedroom home.

Ojai Code Enforcement officials yellow-tagged the residence as a danger to occupants.

Vandermaesen was arrested on suspicion of felony elder abuse and misdemeanor failure to care for animals.