Richard Church didn’t want to leave his pets behind.
As Hurricane Ian barreled toward Florida, the 64-year-old hunkered down in his mobile home.
Boh-Nak Mobile Home Park in Tampa was located in a high-risk flood area, making its residents vulnerable to storm surge, power outages and other dangerous conditions that accompany a hurricane.
With two beloved cats and no pet carriers, Church was prepared to ride out the storm at home.
At the time, Hurricane Ian was expected to be the first hurricane to directly hit the Tampa Bay area in more than 100 years.
“It got kind of scary,” he told the Tampa Bay Times shortly after the storm, which ultimately pivoted south to the Fort Myers area before making landfall. “But when I got to the point where the storm was headed this way, all the motels were booked up.”
Pets are often a reason people don’t evacuate ahead of a hurricane. But they shouldn’t have to be, local officials say.
Here’s our guide to how you can keep your pets —and yourself — safe during a tropical storm.
Where can we go?
Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties all have pet-friendly shelters.
For a list of specific shelters that accept pets, check out our breakout box or visit each county’s website. Pinellas and Pasco allow pets on their free evacuation transportation. Hillsborough County offers pet-friendly transportation in a limited number of cases, primarily for families with special medical needs. Similarly, Hernando County only provides transportation for pets that are headed to special needs shelters.
To learn more about each county’s hurricane transportation assistance visit their county websites or dial county numbers.
What kinds of pets?
Generally, most pet-friendly shelters accept small, domesticated pets such as cats, dogs and birds.
Check each county’s breakout box for specifics.
What about crates?
Tampa Bay shelters usually require pet owners to bring their own crates or cages to county shelters.
Hillsborough, Hernando and Manatee shelters have a small number of crates available onsite, but ask that residents provide their own if they have them due to the limited supply. A limited number of pet crates may be available for transportation to shelters in these counties as well.
What else should I bring?
You should bring enough pet food, medication and other essential supplies your furry loved one needs for at least a week’s time, most county officials say. Also bring a toy to help ease their stress.
To help, SPCA of Tampa Bay offers free cat and dog food to residents facing financial hardship from their Pebble’s Food Bank every Tuesday, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead to make an appointment at 727-586-3591, ext. 121.
Where will they stay at the shelter? What interaction will they have with other animals?
Your pet will stay in a separate area from you, but most shelters will allow you to stop by and check on your furry (or feathery) friend, as well as administer medication they need.
Pets will generally be housed near other animals of their species, and will be kept in crates to ensure they’re safe.
The risk of fleas or potential harm from other animals is very low, county officials say — and it’s important to remember that the biggest priority is keeping your pet secure during the storm.
Shelters by county
Which shelters are pet-friendly? The county determines which shelters will be pet-friendly ahead of a storm based on the anticipated needs of the community. Typically, one or more public schools, and at times the Enrichment Center in Brooksville, are converted into shelters that welcome pets. Keep an eye out for county announcements ahead of a storm for specifics.
What kind of pets? Domestic animals that would stay within a home — this includes dogs, cats and ferrets. Arrangements can be made for other reptiles and birds as needed. Native wild animals are not accepted.
Is evacuation transportation pet-friendly? Transportation must be provided by the owner; excluding animals of people transported to a special needs shelter. They are transported by Animal Enforcement to Hernando County Animal Services for care.
Are pet crates onsite? Are they available for transportation to the shelter? Hernando County encourages all citizens to pre-arrange having their own crates for transport and housing at the shelter. The county does have a limited number of dog and cat crates; however, not enough for large-scale events.
Specialty crates or housing such as bird cages, snake enclosures will need to be provided by the citizens.
Where will my pet stay at the shelter? People and pets will be housed in separate areas of the shelter. Owners will have access to their pets, and are still responsible for their care while in the shelter.
The county tries to establish times for feeding, walking and cleaning. Because it is stressful on the animals, county officials said they try to have some quiet time for them to decompress.
“We work diligently to ensure that owners can access their animals while always having at least a covered roof pathway,” said county spokesperson Dominique Holmes, who noted the distance of separation pets will have from other animals will vary by shelter. “If it is not possible to be accessible under covered walkway, cats would be selected to be further away as they require less care due to not having to be walked.
“We have not experienced any animals harming other animals during previous deployments,” she added. “While no shelter can guarantee that no animal will bring fleas into a facility, it is important to remember that sheltering for hurricanes is designed to be relatively short term with emphasis on necessities, housing, food, water, etc.”
“Crates, crates, crates,” Holmes said. “When a storm is on the way, stores will be sold out. Citizens should buy crates in advance. They should bring the animals food, medicine, a favorite toy and bedding the animal is familiar with. The more the animal feels at home the better.”
If you know your dog has animal or people aggression, county officials ask that you please obtain the appropriate size muzzle for your pet, and acclimate them to wearing the muzzle prior to arrival.
More information: tbtim.es/hernandopets
Which shelters are pet-friendly? The county has up to 18 pet-accommodating shelters. The list of shelters that open during a storm will vary according to a storm’s size and intensity and other factors, like flooding or surge potential.
What kind of pets? Primarily dogs and cats, but county shelters will accept other types of small animals as well — just be sure to bring “adequate housing and food” for your animal.
Is evacuation transportation pet-friendly? Only in a limited number of cases, primarily for families with special medical needs.
Are pet crates onsite? Are they available for transportation to the shelter? Maybe. The county requires people to bring crates and carriers for their pets. If someone does not have one, however, the county usually has a small number of crates available for shelters (but not enough to store all incoming pets).
A very limited number of crates may be made available for transportation through the county’s Pet Resource Center.
Where will my pet stay at the shelter? Usually pets are kept in locker rooms and the people in the gymnasium.
Tips? Don’t forget to bring your pet’s medication and at least one toy for them. There is no medical help at pet-accommodating shelters — staff will not be able to give medicine or provide any medical care. The county cautions that the best plan is to leave the storm zone if possible, rather than rely on a shelter. “Shelters are not the best place for pets (very stressful),” Hillsborough County spokesperson Todd Pratt wrote in an emailed statement.
More information: tbtim.es/hillsboroughpets
Which shelters are pet-friendly? All shelters
What kind of pets? All domesticated animals
Is evacuation transportation pet-friendly? Yes. Residents can bring their pets onto a GoPasco bus if the bus is en route to an evacuation shelter.
Are there pet crates onsite? Are they available for transportation to the shelter? No
Where will my pet stay at the shelter? The county has a separate area for pets. ”We try and separate (cats with cats, dogs with dogs) and isolate (as much space between kennels/crates) as much as possible,” noted Pasco County spokesperson Ryan P. Hughes in an email. “However, during a disaster, it is important to ensure life safety (personal and pets) over the concern of fleas and potential harm from other animals (if all animals are in a crate this chance is very low).”
”Don’t leave your pet and don’t use your pet as an excuse not to evacuate,” Hughes said. “You are putting yourself, your family and your pet at risk. If you are ordered to evacuate, take your pet and your pet supplies with you. Seek shelter with friends or relatives or at a hotel. Many shelters/evacuation centers will not turn away pets.”
He added that the county has pet evacuation video guide here: tbtim.es/pascopetvideo
”If you plan to take your pets with you to a shelter, you are responsible for your pet while staying in the shelter,” Hughes said.
More information: tbtim.es/pascopets
Which shelters are pet-friendly? Available shelters will be posted as the evacuation orders are announced, according to county officials, including pet-friendly shelters. Residents will be able to see which shelters are open at disaster.pinellas.gov.
What kind of pets? Cats and dogs only
Is evacuation transportation pet-friendly? During a hurricane evacuation, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) runs most regular routes. Rides are free to shelters and pets are allowed — cats and small dogs must be in a crate; large dogs must be in a muzzle, on a leash.
Are pet crates onsite? Are they available for transportation to the shelter? No. Residents must bring their own appropriately sized crate or carrier for the pets to live in comfortably for several days.
Where will my pet stay at the shelter? Pets are housed in a separate area from owners in crates or carriers.
”The pets are in individual crates with a small distance between each crate,” said Kelsey Grentzer, a Pinellas County spokesperson, in an email. “The animals should not be able to make physical contact with each other. Aggressive animals that cannot be safely contained would not be allowed to shelter at the pet-friendly shelter. The owner should make other arrangements ahead of time.”
“Residents are responsible for feeding, medicating and cleaning their pets while at the pet-friendly (shelter),” Grentzer said. “If a pet requires special food, the owner will need to bring that with them. If a pet has a severe chronic condition or medications that need refrigeration, the owner should make other arrangements for sheltering.”
More information: https://pinellas.gov/topic/animals-pets/
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