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Hurricane 2019: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job.

There’s a lot to think about to be a responsible pet owner during hurricane season. Here’s the need-to-know, from animal shelters to rabies records.
Dogs wait for their owners at in the locker room at John Hopkins Middle School during Hurricane Irma in 2017. The school filled classrooms and hallways with people evacuating before the storm was projected to makes landfall. The shelter welcomes people from the area with pets and those with special needs. Times 2017
Published Jun. 3
Updated Aug. 29

There may be no more important time to be a responsible pet owner than before a storm.

Tampa Bay is known for its citizens’ devotion to four-legged companions. The region is filled with dog parks, dog beaches, at least two bars with dog play areas, and even restaurants that serve canine fare. But in between puppy spa dates and catnip treats, don’t forget to order and pack all the supplies and documentation pets will need for hurricane season.

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

AFTERMATH: 911 calls from Hurricane Michael paint horrifying picture of what it’s like to not evacuate

Fido and Fluffy’s lives could depend on it. Here are the need-to-know basics of hurricane pet preparedness:

Shelters should be a pet’s last option, not the first.

Although select shelters in Tampa Bay’s counties allow pets, the setup isn’t one most pet owners would find ideal. To keep everyone safe and the shelter orderly, most counties keep pets inside cages in a separate room from where their owners will be staying with the other evacuees.

You will be expected to report to the pet area at a scheduled time to feed, walk or care for your dog or cat. Your time together will be limited.

Hillsborough County specifies on its website that only service animals will be allowed to stay with their owners. Emotional support animals, even with proper documents from a doctor, will not be given the same treatment.

Find a pet-friendly place now.

If you live in an evacuation zone, you need to talk with friends and family who live on higher ground now, not when a storm is approaching. Are they willing to house you and your pet?

If they have pets, make sure the animals get along prior to an evacuation. BluePearl Veterinary Partners said that after 2017’s Hurricane Irma, they saw an uptick of dog-to-dog bite wounds because animals got territorial in homes.

Samantha Belk says goodbye to her maltese, Gardolf until after Hurricane Irma passes. She is in a locker room at John Hopkins Middle School as the storm approached in September 2017. The school filled classrooms and hallways with people evacuating before Hurricane Irma makes landfall. Times files [EVE EDELHEIT | Tampa Bay Times]

Make a list of pet-friendly hotels and boarding facilities. You’ll want that list ready to go with phone numbers and confirmation of pet policies. Once counties start recommending evacuations, hotels fill up fast. Some veterinarians or boarding facilities will keep animals during a hurricane, but don’t assume they’ll have a spot ready for you.

Planning is especially important for those with non-cat or dog house pets. Shelters typically do not accept exotic animals, birds or rodents, and leaving those pets at home to fend for themselves is not an option.

Get your supplies ready.

Even if you opt to go to a shelter, don’t expect the staff there to have what your pet needs. Bring one to two weeks worth of pet food and water, just in case, and you must absolutely bring all necessary medications, leashes, basic medical supplies and bowls.

Have bags for dog waste and portable litter boxes for cats. Shelters get crowded and dirty, so don’t let your pet make things worse for everyone inside.

You’ll also want to keep your pet comfortable by bringing bedding and a plush toy, especially if the animal will spend an extended time in a cage or kennel. The proper kennel, cage or carrier should give your pet enough room to stand up and turn around. Make sure that it’s also easy for one person to transport and set up.

Don’t forget your pet’s records.

Shelters will require up-to-date vaccination records and proof of a rabies shot. But even if you’re staying with family or friends, you should still keep those pet records safely stored with you.

Use a freezer bag to store medical records, the pet’s microchip number (check that it’s activated) and a printed, up-to-date photo that clearly shows what your pet looks like should you get separated. Don’t rely on the photos stored on your phone. Technology can fail during weaker storms, not just the massive ones.

Keep your pets calm.

If your pet is anxious in general, a big storm will likely amplify that. Some pet owners say ThunderShirts — a swaddle-like wrap — can help calm an anxious animal. Others swear by CBD products made with hemp extract as a means to relax anxious cats and dogs. Talk to your veterinarian and explore these options now.

Animals are perceptive. If you’re stressed, your pet is likely to sense that. The easiest way to keep both of you from added anxiety is to have a plan.

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


2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter


What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael.

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind


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  5. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. [Photo courtesy of NOAA] NOAA
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