WEEKI WACHEE — Cecilia Patella knows that most pet owners won't leave their furry family members behind when hurricanes threaten Hernando County.
She just hopes that doesn't mean both pet and owner will stay in danger.
Patella, mitigation and recovery coordinator for Hernando County Emergency Management, said the office will likely be able to open the county's first hurricane shelter for pets and pet owners at Parrott Middle School by the end of this year's hurricane season.
Elements of those plans were presented Saturday at the annual Hernando County Hurricane Expo at Weeki Wachee Springs. The 2008 hurricane season began Sunday.
Spring Hill resident Mariann Kohnke, who attended the expo, said she thought Emergency Management's plan to provide refuge for pets and their owners at Parrott was the best plan she's heard yet.
"There's no way I'd leave them behind," Kohnke said of her two cairn terriers.
She said she evacuates for most storms, but if the hurricane doesn't appear too threatening, she might stay put in her home with her dogs.
Alice Odom of Spring Hill agreed she couldn't leave without her four animals.
"Our pets are like our kids," said Odom, who has three cats and a dog.
Patella said Emergency Management is trying to target people, especially elderly residents, whose only reason for riding out storms is to take care of their pets.
"We know from the past that some people will hesitate to leave because they don't have a place where they can safely leave their animals," she said.
The Parrott plan has been in planning stages for some time, Patella said, and there's still a lot of work to do before the school is ready to house hurricane guests.
Emergency Management recently received grants from FEMA to retrofit Parrott, but most of the new equipment to be installed at the school has to be approved by the School Board, which could take some time.
"The process is very cumbersome," Patella said.
Previously, animals could be housed at the county's animal shelter in Brooksville during storms. Patella said Parrott could hold pets and their owners in separate wings, which would allow owners to care for their pets once the storm has passed.
Michael Sanserino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1430.