ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - "Papa Smurf" is only a week old. Which makes the tiny squirrel's birthday right around Hurricane Irma. The storm tossed him from his nest high in an oak tree.
Now he is warm and well-fed by a syringe squirting out small drops of formula. The baby squirrel is nestled in the arms of St. Petersburg "squirrel rehabber" Marykay Dadetto.
"He survived the first 48 hours, which is the critical period," says Dadetto, who wound up turning her home into a makeshift squirrel hospital during the extreme weather. "His sister didn't make it. She got pneumonia."
In a home she shares with squirrel-savvy partner Sherry Scott, Dadetto took in about a dozen storm-displaced squirrels when they were turned away from animal shelters. Dozens more went to other squirrel rehabbers in the Tampa Bay area.
Only a few months ago, she was basically just a dog person. But then her pooches found two pink baby squirrels in the backyard. Dadetto took them in, studied up and named them Candie and Cookie.
Because it is legal in Florida to keep pets as squirrels, Candor and Cookie are staying as Dadetto's pets.
Her rep as a squirrel whisperer grew, as well as her knowledge of squirrel husbandry.
When Irma displaced all those critters, Dadetto was ready for the call. As more trees and branches fell, and shelters filled up with dogs and cats, more people started showing up on her doorstep with injured squirrels they found in their yards.
Dadetto and Scott improvised: cardboard boxes for beds and blankets from generous neighbors.
Baby squirrels need to be kept warm. You cannot just feed them people food. Their diet is very restricted at first; just small drops of formula. And as far as their bathroom habits, that is complicated.
Four of their rescues died from head injuries or pneumonia, but a lot more lived and will be released into the wild after 10 weeks.
Smiling, Dadetto doesn't regret this crazy life twist for an instant.