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Florida Wildlife Care Becomes Refuge For Injured Animals After Hurricane Irma

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The parking lot behind Burrito Famous on West University Ave. is a safe haven for wounded animals that Leslie Straub likes to call “Squirrel Central.”

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma didn’t just leave fallen trees in the streets, people without power, or homes flooded; its destruction also left Florida’s wildlife in critical condition.

Florida Wildlife Care helps animals recover from the impending damage that Hurricane Irma had on the wildlife of Florida.

“Once we knew the storm was going to be affecting us so severely we started actively planning for the events and getting all of our supplies, because we knew what was coming,” Leslie Straub, Director of Florida Wildlife Care, said.

Next to the lime green picnic tables in the parking lot with her trunk open, her clipboard in hand and supplies ready for injured squirrels, Straub estimated that  FWC would receive 500 animals in a week following Hurricane Irma.

“This is the peak baby squirrel season of the year — fall is when they have the most babies, so we knew that most of the animals that were going to be coming in were going to be baby squirrels,” Straub said. “And we knew we couldn’t handle that many phone calls (from people who rescued animals during the storm). Normally we get 500 squirrels in a whole year, but now we’re expecting 500 in a week.”

The FWC began receiving animals affected by the storm as early as Sunday afternoon, according to Straub. On Monday FWC took in the highest number of animals than any other day, accounting for over 100 animals.

“As of Wednesday the numbers have started to go down, but we’re still expecting animals to come in as they’re getting out there cleaning up debris and dealing with the aftermath,” Straub said. “The longer it takes to find these animals, the worse the condition they are in.”

Maddie Matesich, a sophomore health science major at the University of Florida, rescued a 4-week-old squirrel with her family during Hurricane Irma in Tampa.

“We took our dogs on a walk and saw something on the sidewalk and when we got closer we saw it was a baby squirrel laying on the sidewalk,” Matesich said. “His eyes were closed, he was squirming and shaking, we didn’t know if his legs were broken, so we assumed he had fallen out of a nest during the storm.”

Matesich and her family brought home the baby squirrel they called “Scrat” after the squirrel in the animated movie “Ice Age.” They gave him electrolytes through a small eye dropper which he would latch on to briefly.

“We called around and we found out an animal hospital was holding a rehab sanctuary for squirrels,” Matesich said. “We wanted to bring him to people who knew what they were doing so he could eventually be released back to the wild.”

The FWC will continue to have drop off locations until they can be sure that most of the animals that have been impacted have come in.

“We’re a non-profit so we depend on the support of the community we work in,” Straub said. “We’re focusing on just three counties, normally we cover 11 counties, but during these types of events we focus on our core counties: Alachua, Putnam and Columbia.”

The animals that are coming in to the FWC in the most critical condition have spinal injuries and paralysis and have crushed pelvises because of falling trees or nests hitting roads and driveways, according to Straub.

“We’re starting to see baby squirrels that are very cold, dehydrated and wet that have been like that for days and are barely conscious,” Straub said.

Patrick Rathbun, a marketing assistant at UF RecSports, and his neighbors found three baby squirrels throughout the backyard on Sunday.

“I think it’s very important to remember that we as humans were not the only ones affected by this storm. Whether it’s baby animals falling out of trees and being separated from their families, or stray pets wandering alone, we should do our best to help animals, who like so many in our state, have been displaced from their homes,” Rathbun said.

According to Straub, drop-off locations for squirrels are posted on Florida Wildlife Care’s Facebook page and their 24-hour help line is available at 352-371-4400 or on their website www.floridawildlifecare.org

“People find these animals and don’t want them to suffer, they want to help,” Straub said. “We’re here to help through any situation, help the community as they clean up and help the animals that they find. We couldn’t do what we do without the help of the community.”

About Magen Brubaker

Magen Brubaker is a WUFT reporter and can be contacted by calling 850-572-5006 or by emailing magenbrubaker@gmail.com.

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