HOWELL, NJ --The case against a mother from New Jersey fined for taking care of a pair of abandoned squirrels was dismissed on a technicality Wednesday.
Maria Vaccarella and her attorney had planned to fight the accusations, and supporters showed up to testify, but the judge threw out the case because she was apparently charged under the wrong statute.
"It's a little emotional, but I'm really happy," she said afterwards. "This meant a lot to me, because I felt like I did the right thing. I helped save a life -- two lives -- and we should teach people to have compassion and kindness."
Vaccarella, of Howell, had said she was only trying to help one squirrel that then surprised her by giving birth to two babies, which she then abandoned.
"We left the babies in the cage outside for 24 hours," she said. "(The mother) never came back. I brought them in, kept them warm, bottle fed them."
She said there's no way the baby squirrels could have survived otherwise, and she reached out to registered wildlife rehabilitators. When they could not take the squirrels in, the Vaccarellas became their foster family.
She kept in touch with rehabilitators for advice on caring for the animals, which were part of the 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," she said. "I said yes. I had no problem telling them the story. I was proud."
She told Eyewitness News she didn't think caring for the squirrels was illegal.
"They said I could not have them, that they had to be rehabilitated," she said. "I complied. I said no problem."
She said she even gave the officers the cage, but days later, she received a ticket in the mail for $500. When she tried to fight it, she was told by the judge she faced up to $1,000 and six months in jail because having the squirrels was a criminal offense.
Now, that legal drama is over, though without the satisfaction of successfully fighting the charges.