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Hundreds of rats and a parrot: California cops share photos from elder abuse case

Police describe filthy conditions at Southern California home with 200 to 700 rats

Detective Joe Preciado of the Ojai Police Department said at a news conference that fecal matter, urine, hundreds of rats and about a dozen dogs were found in a Ventura County home, leading to elderly abuse charges.
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Detective Joe Preciado of the Ojai Police Department said at a news conference that fecal matter, urine, hundreds of rats and about a dozen dogs were found in a Ventura County home, leading to elderly abuse charges.

California authorities shared photos on Wednesday showing a filthy, rat-infested home where a 96-year-old man was living — a “deplorable” housing situation that landed his daughter with elderly abuse charges, deputies said.

There were 200 to 700 rats on the loose in the bedrooms, walls and garage at the Ojai, California, home when deputies and detectives searched the residence March 14, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. Beyond rats, the home was filled with dogs, rabbits, a cat and an African grey parrot — all of them appearing “well-fed or over-fed,” deputies said.

“There were 55 wild rats that were caged,” Detective Joe Preciado of the Ojai Police Department said at a news conference Wednesday. “Those were not pets.”

Catherine Ann Vandermaesen, the 65-year-old facing felony elderly abuse and animal neglect charges in the case, lived at the home with her father and her 74-year-old sister, the sheriff’s office said. Vandermaesen has been released on bond, Preciado said.

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Authorities said they seized multiple dogs, two rabbits, one cat, one African grey parrot and 55 wild rats from the home. Ventura County Sheriff's Office

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Deputies described the suspect’s 74-year-old sister — who was hospitalized and was covered in urine and feces — as a “possible victim” in the case. Ventura County Sheriff's Office

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Detective Preciado, of the Ojai Police Department, said of the 55 rats: “Those were not pets.” Ventura County Sheriff's Office

“There was fecal matter, urine, throughout the house,” Preciado said. “The three adults were actually living in the front living room with 12 dogs.”

Photos from inside the home show a stained bed strewn with newspapers, napkins, towels and what appear to be two bottles of vodka. In the kitchen, the counter and stovetop are in disarray, with even more debris and what looks like a cage on the floor, photos show.

Several stacked animal carriers sit in one part of the house, and authorities also released photos showing some of the caged wild rats and the parrot sitting in a “pet taxi” cage. The floors are covered in debris, torn up paper, and plastic packages and bottles.

Preciado said Vandermaesen’s arrest came after deputies showed up to the home March 13 to do a welfare check, and her 74-year-old sister came to the door covered in fecal matter and urine stains, Preciado said.

“She said that she was fine, that she was OK,” Preciado said. “She stated that there were no issues.”

But the sisters wouldn’t let authorities inside the home — and when deputies asked to see their father, they offered to bring him to the door in his wheelchair but wouldn’t let authorities inside, according to the sheriff’s office.

Authorities regrouped and investigated the situation more, then came back the next day to search the home, the sheriff’s office said. Deputies said they could smell the ammonia from the urine 20 feet before reaching the home.

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The residence, located on the 1200 block of Gregory Street in Ojai, has been tagged as “unlivable,” deputies said. Ventura County Sheriff's Office

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Deputies described the animals as in “good” or “fair” condition. Ventura County Sheriff's Office

“It was definitely one of the worst houses I’ve ever been on,” Preciado said, adding that he’s worked for the department for more than 20 years. “It rose to the level of felony elderly abuse.”

Preciado said deputies visited the home months ago, and in the six or seven months since, the condition at the home had devolved.

The father was treated at the scene and hospitalized, deputies said. The sister was taken to a local emergency room as well.

Authorities encouraged people to watch for similar situations in their own neighborhoods.

“If you see something, smell something ... please notify your local police department,” Preciado said. “Our intention wasn’t to go in and arrest her; our true intention was to go in and check the well-being of everyone residing at that home.”

Vandermaesen is set to appear in court on April 2, the Ventura County Star reports. Her sister and father will be housed elsewhere, deputies said.

Derek Schmidt, Kansas Attorney General, testifies during the Senate Special Aging Committee on combatting scams that target the elderly.

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