By Kate Quesada
Bloomingdale resident Carmen Tate opened her home to a different kind of evacuee when Hurricane Irma moved through the area in September. The neonatal pediatric ICU nurse rehabbed 21 baby squirrels displaced before and during the storm and is currently housing 18 until they are ready to be released back into the wild.
Tate believes that her medical training and daily work with premature babies both prepped and drew her to caring for the baby squirrels, but her adventures with young animals began years ago when her 8-year-old daughter found a nest of abandoned Mallard eggs. With her daughter’s help she made an incubator for the eggs and cared for them round the clock. When the eggs hatched almost four weeks later, Tate took care of the ducklings until they were old enough to be released in the neighborhood pond.
Her animal rehabbing adventure continued when, about a year ago, she had her trees trimmed and noticed four babies squirrels had fallen between 40 and 50 ft. to the ground. After researching on-line, Tate decided that taking the squirrels into her home and nursing them herself was the best option for them.
“I took to Google and found a group of squirrel lovers on Instagram where I gained a huge amount of information,” said Tate who learned to feed pumpkin to squirrels with stomach troubles, and that keeping them inside, out of natural light, can cause bone disease, among many other interesting facts. “It’s amazing how fragile and hard to take care of they really are.”
Tate released those four babies a few weeks after taking them in, but kept in touch with her squirrel internet groups, becoming a mentor herself to some rescuers around the country.
When Hurricane Irma approached the area, Tate reached out to multiple neighborhood Facebook groups mentioning that she was available to help if anyone found baby squirrels after the storm.
“Before the storm even hit, I had a squirrel dropped off to me from a neighbor who found the baby after a tree trimmer killed its mother,” said Tate who rushed to Walgreens to buy supplies to feed and keep the squirrels warm right before the store closed to prepare for the storm. “In the aftermath of the storm, I had between eight and ten people bring me a few squirrels each.”
The squirrels weighed between 60 and 80 grams and were between three and five inches long. As they grew bigger, Tate moved them from containers with heating pads to cages so they could have space to move around and learn to crawl, climb and balance. She plans to release them when they reach approximately 12 weeks of age, which will vary as they were all different ages when they were brought to her.
Once this group of squirrels is released, Tate plans to take in others as needed.
“I didn’t go looking to become a squirrel rehabber,” she said. “But what was I supposed to do? I have the resources and knowledge and I couldn’t let them die without trying to save them.”
Tate set up a fundraising page on Facebook for anyone who would like to help with the cost associated with rehabbing the squirrels. Search Bloomimgdale/FishHawk Irma Squirrel Rescue or TwirlySquirrels on Instagram for more information.