Michael Stravato for The New York Times
A volunteer feeding a baby squirrel on Friday in Houston.
By KATE MURPHY
Published: September 27, 2008
HOUSTON — Residents are finding tiny refugees in the leafy debris left behind by Hurricane Ike: baby squirrels. More than 1,000 of them, some less than three inches long, have been brought to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has set up the equivalent of a squirrel neonatal unit.
Rows of glass incubators fill a room, each containing litters of orphaned squirrels curled up together on fleece blankets.
“We’re feeding them puppy formula every three hours,” said Sharon Schmalz, executive director of the society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center.
Volunteers, who have come from as far away as Los Angeles and Minneapolis to care for animals displaced by the hurricane, sit around a table drawing formula into nipple-tipped syringes, which allow them to deliver a small stream of liquid into the baby squirrels’ mouths. “If you don’t control the flow, they get pneumonia,” Ms. Schmalz said.
Sheila Fikaris, a retired police officer, brought in two ailing baby gray squirrels on Thursday.
She found them dripping wet in her yard on Sept. 13 as the eye of the storm passed over her house. “I could hear them crying,” she said, reluctantly handing them over to Ms. Schmalz. “We named them Charlie and Squeaker.” The most popular names for pairs of baby squirrels brought in after the storm were Ike and Tina.
Squirrels far outnumber all other kinds of animals at the shelter. Even now, two weeks after the storm, 20 to 30 squirrels are arriving daily.
“We’ve had a pelican and a couple of seagulls, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the squirrels,” said Ms. Schmalz, who explained that this was the height of squirrel birthing season in Texas.
The squirrels will be cared for until they are 12 weeks old, when they will be released in tree-filled neighborhoods or more rural areas outside the city limits.
“We don’t get too sad letting them go,” Ms. Schmalz said. “When you see them running through the trees, wrestling and playing — you know they are where they’re meant to be.”
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