New Jersey 'squirrel mom' speaking out against charges for helping animals

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Friday, January 15, 2016
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A North Jersey animal lover is now facing up to six months in jail for rescuing two orphaned squirrels.

HOWELL, N.J. (WPVI) -- An animal lover from New Jersey is speaking out against charges she's facing for taking care of baby squirrels.

Maria Vaccarella of Howell said she was only trying to help one squirrel, and then it surprised her and gave birth to two baby squirrels.

"We left the babies in the cage outside for 24 hours. (The mother) never came back. I brought them in, kept them warm, bottle fed them," Vaccarella said.

She said there's no way the baby squirrels could have survived without their mother.

Vaccarella reached out to registered wildlife rehabilitators. When they could not take the squirrels in, she became their foster mom.

In fact, all of the Vaccarellas became their foster family, her husband and son included.

Maria Vaccarella posted videos of the squirrels on social media, and kept in touch with rehabilitators. The animals were part of their family for four months.

But on October 31, the Division of Fish and Wildlife came knocking at her door.

"They said they saw a picture on Facebook and asked me if I had squirrels. I said yes. I had no problem telling them the story. I was proud," Vaccarella said.

She told WABC-TV she didn't think caring for the squirrels was illegal.

"They said I could not have them, that they had to be rehabilitated. I complied. I said no problem," she said.

She said she even gave the officers the cage.

Days later, she received a ticket in the mail.

"$500. When I was in court, the judge told me up to a $1,000 fine," Vaccarella said.

She said the judge also said she could face up to six months in jail, because having the animals was a criminal offense.

She said the charges for trying to help out baby animals made her angry.

"Especially wasting taxpayer to go to court over helping two squirrels? It doesn't make sense."

Vaccarella pleaded not guilty. She's back in court January 27.