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PETS COULD GET A STORM SHELTER

The dog-and-cat-only shelter would be at a county school.

Pasco County is on the brink of getting its first pet-friendly storm shelter, but there are a few catches:

1. You wouldn't be able to stay with your pet. The animals would stay at one school, while their owners would seek shelter at a second school nearby.

2. Only cats and dogs would be allowed. So if you've got a parakeet, a rabbit or a rattlesnake, you would have to make other accommodations.

The School Board will hear the proposal Tuesday, when superintendent Heather Fiorentino recommends using a school as an emergency pet shelter as part of a one-year pilot program. The proposal needs the School Board's blessing.

Fiorentino said she has narrowed down the list of possible pet shelters to two schools that have agricultural programs. But she wouldn't name either one Thursday.

The school district is working with the County Commission, which would provide personnel to run the shelter during emergencies, such as hurricane evacuations.

After the one year has lapsed, Fiorentino said, it will be up to county officials to find a permanent location for the pet-friendly shelter.

"It's important that we have something that's available for all our citizens," she said. "This is to hold them (the county) over until they take this over next year."

Fiorentino said she's been working with Pasco's emergency management director, Jim Martin, to iron out details for the shelter. She said only dogs and cats will be allowed.

"We've been talking about this for years," she said. "Jim Martin and I worked on this to figure out what would work, which school, trying to work with staff and figure out which school to use."

During previous hurricane seasons, many Pasco residents refused to evacuate because the county's public shelters don't accept pets. Pet owners were forced to find a boarding location such as a pet-friendly hotel.

Surrounding counties such as Hernando, Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas already have plans in place to operate pet-friendly shelters during storm evacuations.

A 2006 federal law requires pet safety to be part of a county's hurricane emergency plans, according to FloridaPets.net, a Web site that compiled evacuation shelter data for Florida counties.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

FAST FACTS

Pet-friendly shelter rules

- The County Commission will provide personnel and volunteers to prepare the shelter and ensure its safe operation.

- The maximum number of dogs will be 100, cats 200.

- Pets must be restrained and have tags and vaccinations.

- The County Commission will reimburse the School Board for any damages to the school or the grounds caused by operation of the shelter, and any expenses incurred by the School Board, including staff, to support the shelter.

Source: Proposed memorandum of understanding between the district School Board of Pasco County and the Board of County Commissioners

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