Jill Horstmann Dedicated Her Life To The Causes Of Squirrels
Good Samaritans, who rehab wild animals, are a rare breed. Not many people have the patience or time to commit to calming a feral animal, treating it for any injuries, and then helping them recover without getting so used to humans that they can never be released again. It is the main objective to help them get back to their lives in the wild before whatever caused them the harm in the first place. That is the primary goal of a rehabber.
When it comes to squirrels, many need rescuing and rehab after some of the major storms that hit the state of Florida each year. Babies get blown out of their nests and are frequently found, curled up into a tiny ball on the ground.
An amazing thing about squirrels is that the momma will take her babies back if they fall out of the nest, and they will also adopt orphans. They are kind creatures to be sure. During storms though, the babies can be blown so far away that she cannot find them.
People who live in Florida, after the storm has blown by, head outside to check the neighbors, check for damage and begin the process of picking up all of the branches that have fallen in their yards, and check for baby squirrels.
Occasionally, companies that provide tree services will cut through squirrel nests or otherwise dislodge them. The reputable companies gather up the babies, put them in a box and leave them at the base of the tree so the momma will come down and gather them up to move into a new nest. Sometimes though, she won’t or cannot retrieve them.
A situation like that happened with a tree trimming company who found 2 babies and put them in a box at the base of the tree. They watched the momma take one, but did not come back for the other. So what do you do in a situation like that? How do you help the baby squirrel you may find in your yard after a storm but have no idea where it might have come from?
Hurricane IRMA heads for Florida
I had the good fortune to meet Jill Horstmann who is one of those Samaritans who is patient and caring and runs an amazing rescue called SquirrellyAF. What a fantastic name!
She rescued a baby squirrel from her flooding front yard about 25 years ago. The baby was still alive but not breathing. Jill pushed on her little chest, water came out and she was able to care for the baby until grown and released successfully back into the wild. She named her Tree.
Years later, Jill found another baby, named this one Tea Tree, and was able to care for the little squirrel until grown and then released back into the wild.
Then came Hurricane Irma!
A lost and hurt baby finds help at SquirrellyAF
This storm, originally headed to eastern Florida turned at the last minute and headed right up the state on the west side and wrought some horrifying damage. Floods, downed trees, power outages, people and animals hurt – Irma really did a number on old Florida for sure.
So many people were finding squirrels in need of rescue and care that friends of Jill who remembered her success with Tree and Tea Tree essentially tagged her as someone these people could go to. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since 2017, when Irma hit Florida with that one two punch, Jill created and has grown an incredible squirrel rescue. She runs her 501c3 nonprofit organization by herself but is part of a really great team. SquirrellyAF is a sub permittee under Wright Ranch Rescue located in Lutz, Florida. The ranch helps all kinds of critters in need such as raccoons, ‘possums and the like, but any baby squirrels that come in, Jill takes them and rehabs them all for release back to nature.
Another astounding group called Birds With Helping Hands has a large cadre of volunteers who travel around and pick up animals that need help and are able to take them to the best rehabbers. Should any of them pick up squirrels, they take them to Jill.
These babies are fed ’round the clock until they can be weaned.
For each little baby that comes to Jill, it takes about 6 months to care for them before they can be released. There are certainly many other factors that can cause a baby to need help like the storms or tree trimmers – animal attacks, hit by car, poisons – it’s endless.
They are fed ‘round the clock until weaned and then, when a little bit older, they start the next step in their rehab process. Jill moves them outside where they start learning about the elements, communication, climbing branches, burying food and all of the skills a little squirrel needs. Jill likens it to “squirrel college”.
This is an example of an outdoor cage she prepares with a nesting box, hammock, hanging bed, swinging branches, calcium chew, water bottle, hiding tube and bamboo to cover the top.
When Jill feels like her charges are ready to go back to the trees, the doors to their cages are left open and they can come and go freely. Most venture out during the day but return to their nesting boxes at night. After more time has passed, they may eventually move further away.
This baby is just about done with feeding and heading back outside will be the next step
Occasionally, someone might bring an adult squirrel to her in which case she has them checked by her vet, fixed up with meds, and released.
To be sure, running a rescue like this takes a great deal of time and money. Volunteers help from time to time and donations help keep things going with the purchase of syringes, nipples, special formulas, fresh foods, and of course, veterinarian bills.
Each baby that comes to Jill is given their own name like Bamboo, Sushi, Tyson, Indie, Paula, Jeremy, Flea, Cora, Dax, and many more. Most come back to visit with her after they have been released but Jill makes it clear, you can never grab them, or try to pick them up. They may jump on her and get some treats, but they are wild animals who have been given a second chance to go back to the life they were born to, and Jill respects that tenet to the letter.
One of their handbuilt, custom outdoor pre-release cages
Occasionally, a baby may come to her that is so hurt they cannot be saved, and she holds them and cares for them until they pass. Some though, like Juice, survive and stay with Jill but his back legs had been crushed and had to be amputated. He will live out his life with her, and by all appearances, seems to be having a good time doing that.
Thank you, Jill, and all of the fantastic rehabbers out there who perform amazing miracles on a daily basis, from their hearts.
Juice, a happy and fortunate little guy
You can find Jill and SquirrellyAF above. You may find our phone and email here: (727) 336-7228; email@example.com
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