The infested vehicle was parked beside the Circle K convenience store where she worked.
"[We] realized right away the situation was significant," Capt. Danee Cook of Humane Society's law enforcement department told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "They could tell immediately that it was a huge amount (of rats). They were living out of the van, coming and going."
Officers found the rodents "in every crevice" of the van, burrowed into the upholstery and gnawing through the engine wiring. Many of them were pregnant.
But Cook pointed out the rats weren't wild, and were all being cared for.
"She was feeding all of them, had water for all of them. This didn't meet the standards of hoarding," he said. "This was not a cruelty case, this was a relinquishment, an owner asking for help."
A GoFundMe was set up to help Clara, who was in danger of losing her job if the van was not towed away; it couldn't be moved until every rat was removed, nor would a junk yard accept it while it was infested.
The fund quickly raised $5,000, while someone even donated an old van.
"She is an amazing person who has had a string of bad luck," said fund organizer Vanessa Hodges Black. "She is NOT looking for a handout at all."
However after hitting the $5k target, Black advised would-be donors Clara did not need any more money. After providing her with contacts for several mental health, housing, counseling and even hoarding clean-up contacts, she said Clara insisted there "was no problem", and just wanted the cash to pay off $6k in bills she had amassed.
"I've also called, emailed, or communicated with the following, and again, I CAN'T DO ANYTHING FOR HER, she has to step up and accept the help herself, get herself qualified, etc" she updated the GoFundMe, providing an extensive list of charities and services.
"She is refusing any help in these areas. She claims there is no problem."
"This post may sound negative (I am just exhausted from this) but it shouldn't and isn't," she wrote. "The community should be VERY proud of themselves for stepping in to help another human being in need, not to mention the helpless rats."
Same-sex pairs of the rescued rats can be adopted for as little as $5 from the San Diego Humane Society. More will become available as the pregnant ones give birth.