NJ ‘squirrel mom’ says she won’t plead guilty ‘to saving a life’
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The Howell "Squirrel Mom" — charged after taking in a pregnant squirrel, then caring for its babies — has rejected a plea deal from the state Deptartment of Fish and Game.
The Asbury Park Press reported that the agency offered Maria Vaccarella a deal in which she would plead guilty to unauthorized possession of wildlife in exchange for no fines. She would also have to pay $35 in court costs. Freehold Township Anthony Vecchio, who presented the offer, rejected a counter offer to dismiss all charges.
"I can't plead guilty to saving a life. It's ludicrous," Vaccarella told the newspaper.
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, she wrote.
She kept the pair she named George and Lola in hopes their mother would come back, Vaccarella wrote. After consulting with a rehabilitator Vaccarella decided to keep the pair through the winter, according to her petition.
Representatives from Fish and Game came to her door and took the squirrels, and sent her a summons, according to her petition. According to the Asbury Park Press report, the charge was unauthorized possession of wildlife, which carries a fine of $100 to $500.
Vaccarella said that the DEP has not responded to her request for an update on the squirrels.
Vaccarella's online petition, titled "Dismiss this crazy charge," has nearly 5,000 signatures of support.
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.”