By AMANDA KIMBLE
Published: Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:07 AM CDT
When natural disasters strike, a mobilization of relief workers from various agencies such as the Red Cross, National Guard, and FEMA are ready to respond, bringing in food and water, working to restore power, and setting up temporary shelter to assist in returning the disaster zone and the lives of those within it back to normal.
Animal rescuers also play a vital role in rehabilitating disaster touched habitats. One local resident and licensed wildlife rescuer, Birgit Sommer, who operates Rainbow Wildlife Rescue in Stephenville, recently made a trip to the Metroplex to pick up 15 baby squirrels orphaned by Hurricane Ike.
Sommer said with the assistance of locals, she hopes to bring more homeless squirrels to the area.
“Hurricane Ike has left literally thousands of baby squirrels orphaned on the ground in Houston and in the surrounding areas,” Sommer said. “One wildlife rescuers alone received 730 infant squirrels!”
In the days following Ike’s destruction, Sommer said her phone has been ringing non-stop and e-mails began piling up, all from people looking for refuge for baby squirrels they had rescued. She said many of the people seeking help didn’t even have electricity to care for themselves and their families but they were still taking in the tiniest of hurricane victims.
While Sommer was only able to bring 15 squirrels home in her first round of aide, she hopes to bring more to her local sanctuary on East Clifton. She said when she picked up her tiny patients, she was told about 600 more were on their way to Dallas. The problem is that not just anyone can adopt a baby squirrel. You have to have a state wildlife rehabilitation permit, which Sommer does.
“With a little bit of help and effort I could take in twice or even three times as many,” Sommer said. “I just need more outside cages.”
Sommer said donations to her local rescue efforts have been scarce and since she does not get funding to support her cause, she needs help caring for her new furry friends.
Sommer said local organizations, including Ark Veterinary Hospital and the Girls Scouts have offered assistance in the past. She also said the Boy Scouts have offered to help.
“The Boys Scouts are planning a fund-raiser to help get the funds I need to build more enclosures,” Sommer said.
In addition, Sommer said members of Tarleton State University’s Student Wildlife Society have stepped up to help. The club organized a fund-raiser and also plans to visit local hardware and supply stores this week to see if local retailers have any materials they would be willing to donate for the cages. One member of the Wildlife Society, Danielle Meyers, who is majoring in wildlife management, said she and other members are working on a letter to distribute to managers of local supply companies to solicit donations.
How can you help? While taking in a few orphaned squirrels is only an option for licensed rescuers, Sommer said donations would go a long way in saving the baby squirrels. Monetary donations, as well as supplies, are needed.
Sommer said she is in need of materials to build outside enclosures, as well as a garden utility shed to store cages and food. The young orphans are fed milk replacers.
Materials used to construct outdoor enclosures include: 1/2 inch galvanized hardware cloth (most useful at the moment); 50 ft. privacy fence panels; concrete for cage foundations; 2 x 4’s and plywood for bottom frames and back walls. Or if you have unused cages such as large ferret type cages with enough room for squirrels to climb around in, they too would be appreciated. .
For more information on the Student Wildlife society, visit www.tarleton.edu/~wildlifeclub.
Stephenville woman takes in 'squirrely' hurricane victims
By Angelia Joiner
Special to the Reporter-News
Monday, September 22, 2008
Photo by Angelia Joiner/Special
STEPHENVILLE -- Appropriately nicknamed "Miss Doolittle" when she was just 5 years old, Birgit Sommer is taking in orphans from Hurricane Ike.
Not the human kind. The small, furry kind.
Infant gray squirrels were found everywhere after Ike moved through the Houston area, blowing down their nests, and residents were desperate to help them.
Sommer, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, said before Ike had even moved out of the Gulf area, her phone began ringing off the wall and the e-mails started piling up. People were contacting her to see if she could help.
"These people were calling and they didn't even have electricity themselves and they wanted to help all the squirrels being found in their yards and around their homes," Sommer said. "I told them how to feed them and gave emergency instructions, but there weren't any stores open to get the food."
Sommer said she was then contacted by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and learned that more than 900 baby squirrels had been dropped off at the nonprofit Wildlife Rehab & Education in Houston. Some of the squirrels are being sent to animal rescue centers around Texas.
Last weekend, 175 of those animals were delivered to the McKinney SPCA of Texas, and Sommer was there to cart 15 little critters back home to Stephenville.
Two Tarleton State University Wildlife Society students, Randi Baldwin and Danielle Meyers, heard about the plight of the animals and offered to help. They collected $62 in donations at their school's football game last Saturday and will begin soliciting area businesses for donations and materials needed to build shelters for the squirrels.
Sommer said she could take 20 more babies if she just had the wire needed to enclose a metal frame a neighbor donated.
"I'm in desperate need of galvanized hardware cloth also called mesh wire," Sommer said. "I'm not allowed to use chicken wire or chain link type wire. What I need is about $140 a roll."
Just a bucket of Esbilac (milk replacer for puppies) is $50, and according to Sommer, it's just what a baby squirrel needs for nutrition.
The goal is to get the animals healthy enough that they can be released back into the wild in their native area.
Sommer also takes in all kinds of other needy animals and has just rehabilitated a young raccoon. She works closely with the Erath County Humane Society by taking in as many dogs and cats as she can and tries to find good homes for them. Sommer said animal control officers and police bring her animals they find injured or sick as well. Area residents also bring her animals.
Sommer grew up in Northwest Germany, and her parents didn't allow pets because they were allergic. But her grandfather, who lived next door, called her "Miss Doolittle" after a fictional doctor who could talk to animals because it appeared that strays followed her home from school. It wasn't unusual for a bird to light on her shoulder. She said all of the animals in Germany are taken care of because "it's so small with so many people.
She believes she's found her place in Stephenville.
"I'm trying to give back one little animal at a time to nature," Sommer said. "That's where they belong. There's a cycle -- we need them."