With all the hubbub over Hurricane Irma, how many of us missed the arrival of autumn? Here at Peace River Wildlife Center we usually notice this change in seasons well before the temperatures start to decrease. Southwest Florida does not have the spectacular autumnal foliage of which our northern neighbors boast. Instead of colourful leaves littering the ground, we have baby squirrels falling from the trees.
Speaking of Irma, PRWC did indeed evacuate most of our animals. Our patient and resident total just before Irma hit was 243. Our original plan was to shelter in place as many of our animals as possible, taking them into the hospital and surgery wards. The day before Irma made landfall in Florida, when she decided to ignore all prognostications and made that darned right turn too late, it was decided to evacuate most of the animals in our care. Being right on Charlotte Harbor, we are at risk of flooding from storm surge or significant rainfall and our dilapidated buildings are not as sturdy as we would like.
The entire day before the storm hit was spent placing all our patients and most of our residents into kennels and transporting them to safety. We boarded up the windows and locked down everything we could. Many volunteers helped ensure the safety of our animals.
The Monday after the storm, these same brave souls showed up to clean up the debris left in Irma’s wake and bring the animals back. This was an even braver act, because some of the birds were sheltered in Arcadia, and driving back and forth from there with no idea when gas would be available was an act of courage and faith.
We even had friends we had never even met show up to lend a hand. People had seen our plea on Facebook or just drove by to see if we needed help. They rolled up their sleeves, grabbed a rake, shovel, or chainsaw, and made it possible for us to get all our frightened birds back into their habitats within a day of the storm’s passing.
Luckily, all our birds, mammals, and reptiles made it through the storm and stress involved in capturing, kenneling, and moving them. Most of them had to spend over 48 hours in kennels with little more room than to turn around and lie down. While we tried to make them as comfortable as possible, this sort of evacuation is always stressful. That amount of stress can be fatal to many of our delicate patients and residents. Being able to get the birds back into their habitats as quickly as we did undoubtedly saved lives.
In the aftermath of the storm, PRWC was inundated with wildlife impacted by the wind and rain. We had numerous adult birds that had been buffeted by the winds, dashed against walls and windows or the ground, and suffered head trauma and broken bones. Most of the ones with head trauma recovered quickly and have already been released.
We also got a lot of baby bunnies, squirrels, and doves. Many nests had been blown out of trees and countless trees had been uprooted or broken apart by the winds. Most people who brought these displaced and orphaned babies to us were thrilled to find us accepting patients so quickly. With the power out, entire neighborhoods flooded, and shortages at the grocery stores and gas stations, people were relieved to find they had some semblance of control over something and saving the life of a tiny animal became that much more significant.
Charlotte County dodged a bullet with this storm. Things could have been much worse, and without the improvements to our infrastructure that have been ongoing since Hurricane Charley, they likely would have been. Kudos to all the first responders who saved lives and made our lives so much easier so quickly. And thanks to all the businesses that got up and running as quickly as possible—both for the sake of their customers and their employees.
Charley knocked us for a loop. Irma was no match for our preparedness and cooperation. Now if we could just figure out how to keep some of those baby squirrels up in the trees where they belong. Did someone say, “Duct tape?”
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM