HOWELL - A Monmouth County woman is facing fines for taking care of two baby squirrels inside her home.
Howell resident Maria Vaccarella took in an injured squirrel Fourth of July weekend after it fell out of a tree in her neighborhood. A few days later, the squirrel gave birth to two babies and escaped from her outdoor cage.
Vaccarella says that when the mother did not return, she took the baby squirrels inside to care for them. She named them George and Lola and bottle-fed them for nearly four months until two officers from the state Division of Fish and Wildlife came to her door.
“They just said that I couldn't keep them. They didn't even tell me it was illegal,” Vaccarella says.
The squirrels were taken away. Vaccarella received a ticket in the mail a few days later.
Vaccarella pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a "possession of captive game animals" charge. She faces a fine up to $500 if convicted at her upcoming trial.
“I think it's absurd, it's ridiculous. I wasn't hurting anybody,” she says. “I didn't abuse an animal. I was helping them."
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s website, “Intended acts of kindness often have the opposite effect. Instead of being left to learn how to find food, young animals taken from the wild will be denied their natural learning experiences. They often become attached to their caregivers and no longer survive in the wild."
A DEP spokesperson tells News 12 New Jersey that people who encounter injured wild animals should contact a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Vaccarella says the baby squirrels would have died if she didn’t intervene. She says wildlife officials found out about the squirrels after someone saw pictures she posted on Facebook and reported her.