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NJ ‘squirrel mom’ faces serious fines after caring for abandoned critters

An attempted act of kindness turned into a heartache for a Howell woman.

In an online petition, Maria Vaccarella wrote that she took in a scared squirrel that was not walking or moving around the Fourth of July. She and her husband put the female squirrel in a box and fed it until the squirrel gave birth to four babies, two of which survived.

The mother, according to the petition, later became stuck in one of the holes on the side of the box, and when Vaccarella’s husband tried to help, the squirrel took off instead —  leaving the newborn critters behind.

After leaving the babies outside for 24 hours in hopes the mother would return Vaccarella decided to care for the babies herself, she wrote. A rehabilitation, a professional that treats injured animals in order to release them back into the wild, advised Vaccarella to hold onto the squirrels until spring, according to her petition.

Vaccarella’s Facebook post of the squirrels — which she named George and Lola — attracted the attention of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, who came to her home on Halloween and told her it was illegal to keep the critters and took them away, she wrote.

A month later she was issued a summons for $1,000, with a possible jail sentence of 6 months, she wrote. Her petition doesn’t specify the exact charge.

“It breaks my heart not knowing that happened to them,” wrote Vaccarella on her Facebook page. “I am so sure they where confused & scared also.”

But she said she’s also also angry that she has to go to court over the matter, calling it a waste of taxpayers’ money

According to New Jersey Dept of Fish and Wildlife regulations, a permit is required to possess an Eastern gray squirrel. The are provisions for temporarily keeping a squirrel, but the department needs to be notified.

“Intended acts of kindness often have the opposite effect,” the DEP writes on its website. “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.”

It continues: “In addition, nearly all wild birds and mammals are protected under the law and may not be legally kept as pets. Only when they are found injured or with their dead mother is there reason to do something and only under these circumstances can an animal be transferred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.”

As of Saturday morning, the petition, seeking to have the charge dismissed, had about 2,300 supporters.

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