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Hurricane 2018: Don't wait for the storm to protect your pets

Dogs wait for their owners at in the locker room at John Hopkins Middle School on Sept. 10 as Hurricane Irma approached St. Petersburg. The school filled classrooms and hallways with people evacuating before landfall. The shelter welcomed people from the area with pets and those with special needs. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Published May 11, 2018

Want to keep your pet safe this hurricane season? Then start planning and preparing now.

HURRICANE GUIDE: Emergency information, tracking map and storm resources

As the shelter coordinator of the Humane Society in Tampa, Pam Backer knows what to expect for storm season — she also knows what pet owners often fail to do, or don't even think about, before the hurricane arrives.

"If you wait until the last minute, you're not going to take care of your pet because everyone's resources will be stretched," Backer said.

2018 TAMPA BAY TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: FIVE LESSONS FROM IRMA

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COLLEEN WRIGHT: I took shelter from Irma. Here's what I learned.

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MOLLY MOORHEAD: How to hunker down when you're not evacuating

CAITLIN JOHNSTON: Evacuating? Drive tens of miles — not hundreds

First, there's the obvious steps:

• Know which evacuation shelters in your area accept animals.

• Find out which hotels in non-evacuation zones welcome pets, or find a friend or relative in a non-evacuation zone who will house you and your pet.

• Keep all of your pets' vaccination records and microchip information in a ziplock bag or other waterproof casing.

• Have a crate or carrier ready that is easy to travel with, that your pet will be comfortable in.

• Set aside at least a week's worth of food and water for your pet, in addition to your own water supply.

• Get a cooler and ice packs ready to keep any refrigerated medications cold, and keep a week's worth of any needed medications ready.

But the most important thing pet owners should do, she said, is get them a microchip long before hurricane season. The Humane Society of Tampa Bay and the SPCA Tampa Bay both offer this service for dogs and cats at a cost of about $25. They often offer specials or charity events for those who might struggle to afford that expense.

DOWNLOAD: Get the tbo Weather App and see where storms are headed

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Beyond the microchip, Backer suggests making sure that your pets' tags have the most up-to-date contact information. In the aftermath of a storm, it may not be possible for the animal's chip to be scanned right away.

As a back-up plan, Backer also suggests using a permanent marker to write your cell number on the inside of your dog or cat's collar.

"It's important to think of things you wouldn't expect to happen," she said. "Say, your dog gets loose and runs across a chain-link fence and the tag pops off."

She also recommends keeping several recent photos of your pet on hand to show others what they really look like. If you and your pup get separated and they haven't had a haircut in awhile, searchers may not be able to tell the well-groomed dog in that photo is the scruffy one they've just rescued.

2018 TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: GET READY FOR STORM SEASON

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Gear up to gut it out. Prepare your kit now.

Don't wait for the storm to protect your pets

Backer said to be sure to talk through these plans months ahead of time — not the night you get evacuation orders.

Pet owners in panic mode often make poor choices. Some left their animals behind in cages or tied up. Some tried to drop animals off at shelters that weren't properly equipped. Often, pets need to be evacuated, too.

"If you leave your pet tied up or in a crate alone, they're sitting ducks," Backer said. "At least give them a fighting chance; don't force them to drown."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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