Floors and countertops were piled with trash, animal feces and small-pet bedding in the Ojai home filled with hundreds of rats where a woman is accused of subjecting her 96-year-old father to inhumane living conditions, photos of the residence authorities released Wednesday show.
The shockingly unhygienic environment was discovered after Adult Protective Services (APS) workers asked deputies to perform a welfare check on Catherine Vandermaesen’s 74-year-old sister at their home on the 1200 block of Gregory Street last Wednesday, March 13, according to Ventura County sheriff’s officials.
Eight dogs, two rabbits, one cat, an African grey parrot and 55 rats were ultimately removed and impounded. But officials estimate another 200 to 700 wild rats were left in the home, scurrying throughout the bedrooms, walls, garage and piled-up garbage.
Vandermaesen’s father has been placed into protective custody, authorities said.
Originally, Vandermaesen, 65, was suspected of not properly caring for her sister.
But when deputies went to the house, just off Highway 150, both sisters allegedly denied them entry and and insisted everyone inside was fine. The deputies asked to see their father, but the women would only agree to bring him out in a wheelchair, officials said.
The sisters and their father live in the home along with another adult male, who is being considered a witness in the case, according to authorities.
Based on what they saw, the deputies believed Vandermaesen was possibly trying to conceal elder and animal abuse, living hazards and other environmental and medical issues.
They decided to return the next day and assembled a task force that included fire officials, city and county APS caseworkers, animal control officers and code enforcement workers, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Upon returning to the home the following day, officials noticed a strong urine smell as soon as they were within 20 feet of the house. Inside, they found animal feces and urine everywhere, investigators said.
The photos released Wednesday show dirty surfaces and floors piled with dishes, empty and half-full food packaging and other refuse.
A bed in the home was littered with empty alcohol bottles, newspapers, paper towels and dirty dishes. A commode toilet sat next to the bed.
Animal crates were in several rooms. In one, a group of four crates were stacked two high with shaved pet bedding and trash strewn across the room’s floor and countertops.
Investigators assessed the conditions and determined Vandermaesen was subjecting her elderly father to an inhabitable environment that was causing his health to suffer. They also concluded Vandermaesen was responsible for the various animals there and had relegated them to unfit conditions as well.
Code enforcement yellow-tagged the home, deeming it unlivable and a danger to the occupants and animals.
Both Vandermaesen’s father and 74-year-old sister were taken by ambulance to Ojai Valley Community Hospital’s emergency room, officials said.
APS has assumed custody of the father and helped the sister secure temporary housing, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The sister was being considered a witness in the case.
Vandermaesen was arrested on suspicion of felony elder abuse and misdemeanor failure to care for animals.
Inmate records show she was booked last Thursday around 8 p.m. and released on bond the following day at about 5:30 p.m.
She is scheduled to appear in court April 2.