For a minute, it might have been easy for Brooke Dayton to believe it was really raining cats and dogs – until she saw another creature that fell to earth during the recent storms.
Dayton, who lives at Mount Vernon Apartments at 2370 SW Archer Road, said she was walking her dog around the complex recently when another resident brought her a hairless baby squirrel in a towel.
The squirrel had fallen out of one of the waterlogged trees.
“I was just like ‘Oh dear, what do I do with this?’” said Dayton, who is a second-year student at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine. “Because it could bite me. It could have diseases.”
After taking the squirrel to the vet school with no luck, she turned to Florida Wildlife Care Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Gainesville, which took the squirrel in.
Nan Soistman, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator with Florida Wildlife Care Inc., said it’s common for baby squirrels to fall out of their nests during the fall season, which is when gray squirrels usually have their second round of babies.
“The weather has added to the load because all the trees are saturated. The nests are wet, [so] the babies come down,” Soistman said. “They come in, [and] they have respiratory issues sometimes.”
Once the baby squirrels fall from the trees, they can get swept up in any subsequent flooding, she said.
“This weather has definitely affected how many squirrels come down,” she said. “And if we would have had that tropical storm come through that they were predicting, that would have probably been catastrophic.”
One past hurricane left Florida Wildlife Care Inc. overwhelmed with more than 400 baby squirrels, Soistman said.
To lighten the burden of taking care of so many squirrels, Florida Wildlife Care Inc. has a volunteer system in place for those who are interested in fostering a healthy baby squirrel.
“The squirrel program is the starter species for all volunteers to get started to see if they want to go further and be permitted,” Soistman said. “Gray squirrels are one of the species that do not require a permit to rehabilitate.”
Fostering a baby squirrel is a commitment that requires time and money from the volunteer. Volunteers need to buy formula for the squirrels and a scale to make sure the squirrels gain weight. The squirrels need to be fed every three to four hours, five to six times every day, Soistman said.
“At first, it’s a commitment to be home and try to foster,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be on the dot every three hours, but you have to be pretty consistent or they don’t develop correctly. We teach people all of this; we don’t hand people a squirrel and walk away.”
For those who happen to come across a downed baby squirrel, the first thing to do is make sure the squirrel gets warm, Soistman said.
“If you’re sure it’s an orphan, get it in, put it in a small box with some towels or blankets or T-shirts or something. Keep it warm, just so it’s safe,” she said. “Do not try to feed the baby, because people tend to feed them the wrong thing. We can give you instructions if you need to hydrate it.”
Florida Wildlife Care Inc. has a helpline at 352-371-4400 where they are available to give instructions on what to do with a fallen baby squirrel.