TAMPA — Hillsborough County is doubling the number of pet-friendly disaster shelters it offers to four, just in time for hurricane season.
Animal Services workers are seeking monetary donations so they can purchase pet crates and other supplies for the additional two shelters. They also need to buy a couple of trailers to haul the stuff, as well as volunteers to staff the shelters.
"We're asking the public to step up to the plate," said Bill Armstrong, Hillsborough County's animal services director.
Or food bowl, as it were.
Bartels and Shields middle schools, in northern and southern Hillsborough respectively, will now be designated pet-friendly shelters. Sickles High and Burnett Middle schools are the other pet-friendly facilities.
While pet owners are urged to bring their animals in crates and tote enough food and other supplies to last awhile, officials expect that many people will show up unprepared. They are seeking to raise $44,000 to buy supplies and two trailers to augment what people do bring.
The federal government now requires local governments to make pet accommodations part of their disaster planning. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act — or PETS Act — was passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and is sometimes called the "No Pet Left Behind Act."
The hurricane that devastated New Orleans and the surrounding region underscored the limited shelter options available for people fleeing a storm with pets. As a result, many in peril refused to evacuate.
"People won't leave without their animals," said Hillsborough Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who has pushed for more pet-friendly shelter space. "I don't blame them. I wouldn't either."
Hillsborough County added the two pet shelters in recent years but has not been tested by a major storm to know whether that is enough. It isn't not even sure how many animals each shelter can take, with that likely varying based on the mix of big and small dogs.
"The capacity is certainly limited," Ferlita said. "Two certainly wasn't enough."
The shelters now make space available in each of the four quadrants of the county.
County officials used Thursday's announcement to emphasize that it's best to make other arrangements rather than rely on shelters. They won't be fun places to be, with pets kept separately in crates within gym locker rooms.
Now is the time to line up a place to stay with friends, or to figure out which inland hotels will allow pets during an evacuation, Animal Services workers said.
Get your animals vaccinated and carry that paperwork, or they may not be accepted either at the public shelters or some private ones, such as those offered by veterinarians. Buy a pet crate, take pictures of your animals and prepare instructions for special dietary or medical needs that can be kept in a sealed container and affixed to the crate. The shelters will be open only to dogs and cats.
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.