OJAI (CBSLA) — Rat droppings, stained sheets and the strong odor of ammonia and urine were an assault on the senses of Ventura County authorities who came to check on the welfare of a 74-year-old woman and her 96-year-old father in Ojai this month.

Photos of the filthy, rat-infested home released by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department show the abhorrent living conditions that prompted the arrest of Catherine Ann Vandermaesen, 65, on suspicion of elder and animal abuse. Vandermaesen is the sister and daughter of the two residents for whom authorities were conducting a welfare check.

“It was definitely one of the worst houses I’ve ever been on,” Detective Joe Preciado said, adding that he has been with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department for 26 years.

The two-bedroom home’s kitchen was piled high with bags, beverage bottles and boxes alongside pots and pans. Cans of cat food for the sole cat in the house were stacked on top of a microwave. At least one cage held a full-grown bunnies, but other rusted cages held rats – 55 of them, by the count of animal control officials who were also summoned to the house on March 14.

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

In one of the bedrooms, pet carriers were stacked on top of each other and on cages, amid piles of trash and what appeared to be shavings for small animal bedding. Empty and half-empty bottles sit on a dusty desk studded with rat droppings, which also stain a carpet in front of a scuffed wheelchair.


(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

A bedside commode sits on the far end of a bed that is littered with what appears to be a discarded disposable underpad, paper towels, stained sheets and pillows and empty and half-empty bottles of alcohol.

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

A task force of 20 personnel from various Ventura County agencies was gathered to respond to the home in the 1200 block of Gregory Street after deputies were refused entry by Vandermaesen and her sister, who was the subject of a welfare check requested by Adult Protective Services.

“She had fecal matter on her, she had urine stains – both of them did actually – and they both smelled of a strong ammonia urine smell,” Preciado said of that initial contact on March 13.

The sisters’ refusal to let deputies in to check on their father prompted the unified response the next day. The deplorable condition of the home was evident as soon as they stepped in, Preciado said.

“There was fecal matter and urine just throughout the house,” he said. “The entire house was unfit for human living.”

The three adults had been living in the front living room with 12 dogs, two full-grown bunnies, and 55 wild rats that were not pets in cages. Animal control officials who responded with the task force estimated another 200 to 700 rats were living in the home’s walls and floors.

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

(credit: Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

In spite of the filthy living conditions, all the animals in the home appeared well fed, even overfed, Preciado said. Vandermaesen’s father and sister also did not have any visible injuries like rat bites, but were both still taken to Ojai Valley Hospital’s emergency room. Their current health conditions were not disclosed.

Deputies had visited the home as recently as six months ago, and it was not in the filthy, deplorable condition authorities found on March 14, Preciado said.

“They basically went from a nice dwelling, and it ended up to the deplorable one that we walked into,” he said.


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