A woman charged with hundreds of counts of animal cruelty in Howell Township was once an animal control officer in Woodbridge.
Mercedes Lopez, 57, was arrested Sunday at her Howell home after tips to the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MCSPCA) led officials to discover neglected and dead animals all over her property.
Chief Victor “Buddy” Amato of the MCSPCA confirmed that Lopez had once worked as a Woodbridge animal control officer before she was terminated from the job. He said she had also been employed in neighboring Perth Amboy in a similar capacity, but lost that position as well.
Lopez is also involved with Happy Homes Animal Shelter, a non-profit Perth Amboy-based animal welfare group. A woman who answered the phone there said she expected Lopez in "shortly," but later, a man who answered said Lopez "doesn't work here anymore."
Lopez was involved in a dog euthanasia incident in Woodbridge that caused an investigation by the SPCA. In May, 2008, a German Shepherd who had bitten a Woodbridge resident was euthanized because the dog "could not be controlled."
A Woodbridge Township press release said that after the investigation, Lopez, who had gone out on the call, had been exonerated from any wrongdoing. The press release said the dog owner had agreed to having the dog put down after admitting he couldn't control the animal.
In March, 2009, Vincent Garibaldi, pleading on behalf of the owner of the euthanized dog, went to a Woodbridge Council meeting, asking that the case against Lopez and the handling of the German Shepherd be reopened.
He said that Lopez had violated New Jersey statutes by telling the dog's owner he had three choices after the dog bit a neighbor: that the owner could "construct a six foot fence around the property in 48 hours, pay a $6,000.00 fine or euthanize the dog."
Sometime after that discussion, Lopez lost her job as an animal control officer in Woodbridge.
In August, 2012, Lopez's name appeared on a list of animal control officials whose licenses had been revoked and were ineligible to work in that job again.
More than 200 neglected animals were found in Lopez's Howell home and on the property, according to a News12NJ report. The menagerie included dogs, cats, rabbits, pigeons, parrots and a raccoon.
Amato said Lopez faces a six month jail sentence and a $1,000 fine for each charge.