Howell woman will face animal cruelty charges

Neighbor says Mercedes Lopez was rescuing animals after Sandy, and in face of recession

Staff Writer
BY GREG KENNELTY

HOWELL — A Howell resident is facing animal cruelty charges following the discovery of hundreds of animals on her Maxim-Southard Road property.

Authorities said Mercedes Lopez, 56, was arrested on March 10 and charged with failure to provide sustenance, veterinary care or grooming care for the animals, and with failure to provide proper shelter for the animals.

Authorities said Lopez had more than 200 animals on the property, about half of which had perished. They said the animals were being kept in her home in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Lopez previously worked as an animal control officer in the Middlesex County municipalities of Woodbridge and Perth Amboy.

“It is more common [for something like this] to happen to a person like that [a former animal control officer],” said Victor Amato, chief of police for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “She got attached [to the animals] and carried away.”

“I didn’t have time to get a headcount” of the exact number of animals, Amato said, adding that the individuals who responded to Lopez’s property were trying to get the animals to safety. “There were cats near death, animals with parasites; we were just trying to save a lot of them.”

Amato said charges relating to this situation could be filed against Lopez’s husband, Edwin Lopez. There is no date set for when the charges against Mercedes Lopez will be heard in Howell Municipal Court.

In February 2012, Mercedes Lopez was charged with selling sick animals. She initially pleaded guilty, but later changed her plea to not guilty, according to authorities. That case is scheduled to be heard in Manalapan Municipal Court on April 1.

Lopez allegedly began selling sick animals again, which led to Amato being notified and obtaining a search warrant for her property, he said. There he found hundreds of sick, dying and dead animals.

Elaine Taylor, Lopez’s neighbor of five years and a friend, offered her perspective on what was taking place on Maxim- Southard Road.

“The animals she rescues are spayed and neutered. Let’s face it, most of the animals Mercedes rescued were victims of our depressed economy or the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. What I saw was a refugee camp for animal victims of a superstorm,” Taylor wrote in an email.

“These were not normal circumstances because these are not normal times,” she added. “Everyone is suffering in the aftermath of Sandy. The animals kept coming and she found it difficult to say no to them.

“What Mercedes did is a brave and selfless humanitarian act. No one helped her except her family. She paid for everything to keep the animals fed and in shelters protected from the weather all winter with the resources she had. She steadily found homes for the animals she rescued.”

Taylor said, “I want to make it perfectly clear to everyone who reads this that Mercedes and her family are not in that category [of people who abuse animals]. I stand behind my neighbors and want it to be known that I am launching a fundraiser for Mercedes.”

— Contact Greg Kennelty at gkennelty@gmnews.com