From dogs to tigers, how animals in Tampa Bay will weather Irma

The Florida Aquarium received a shipment of 30,0000 gallons of seawater from the Gulf of Mexico in preparation for Irma. JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times
The Florida Aquarium received a shipment of 30,0000 gallons of seawater from the Gulf of Mexico in preparation for Irma.JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Published September 8 2017
Updated September 9 2017

As Hurricane Irma approaches Tampa Bay, animal shelters in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, as well as the Big Cat Rescue and the Florida Aquarium, are busy preparing for the storm.

Hurricane preparedness varies at each place, from playing instrumental music at the dog kennel to stocking up on fresh seawater — thousands of gallons of it. Here's how local facilities are bracing for the storm:

Pinellas County Animal Services

At 12450 Ulmerton Road in Largo, staff members have cleaned up the outside and stocked up on food for both animals and humans. Generators will keep emergency lights on if the power goes off.

"We will have five staff members staying in the shelter during the storm," said director Doug Brightwell. "If anything arises with the animals, they are on site to take care of things."

Dogs can grow agitated to the brewing storm outside, so staff have treats and toys on hand to distract them. They're also playing instrumental music.

"It doesn't work 100 percent," he said. "But it's helpful."

Big Cat Rescue

How do you keep more than 70 big cats safe from hurricane winds?

"We've had a very solid plan for years," said the sanctuary's spokeswoman, Susan Bass.

That includes placing hurricane shutters at the gift shop, which turns into a command center for staff during the storm. Generators will keep freezers filled with meat on. The cats will also remain in steel enclosures. If winds pick up above 30 mph, they are moved into the roofed sections of their cages.

Tigers love water, Bass said, so they may enjoy some of the downpours. As for the other cats? Not so much.

"The rest of the cats will be hunkered down in their dens trying to stay dry," she said.

Florida Aquarium

The aquarium at 701 Channelside Drive in Tampa will be closed to the public today through Monday. But inside the facility, employees are getting ready for Irma. Generators will keep the 100 aquarium exhibits running if the power goes.

Earlier this week, the aquarium received a shipment of 300,000 gallons of fresh seawater from the Gulf of Mexico.

"That was extremely critical for us," said aquarium spokeswoman Kaitlyn Fusco.

Humane Society of Tampa Bay

Early on Sunday morning, staff will be moving more than 100 dogs, cats and rabbits from the Humane Society's older shelter to its more secure hospital down the street on Armenia Avenue in Tampa.

Between 10 to 20 animals will also be flown to the Midwest to make space for empty cages.

"Tuesday is going to be horrible with all the strays that are going to be in need," said CEO Sherry Silk, adding that many volunteers have taken animals home with them.

Roughly 10 staff members and a veterinarian will be with the animals during the storm.

Lowry Park Zoo

"Things are busy around here as we prepare for Hurricane Irma!" wrote chief marketing officer Kristy Chase Tozer in an email Friday.

Most of the animals have "night houses" where they reside, so the zoo plans to keep them in their enclosures throughout the storm.

"The few animals that don't generally have indoor habitats (mostly birds) will be moved into safe, inside enclosures," Tozer said.

Suncoast Animal League

The league is clearing its shelter in Palm Harbor of cats and dogs that will be going out to foster homes.

"Our shelter is very close to water and if the area floods, we are in serious trouble," said a post on its Facebook page. "If you live in a non-evacuation zone, please consider taking just one cat into your home for a few days."

Humane Society of Pinellas

All 208 animals were placed in emergency foster homes, wrote director of development Sharon Boyes in an email.

"Since we have an outdoor facility that is nearly 70 years old," she wrote, "it was imperative we evacuated every pet."

The shelter may reopen on Tuesday.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

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