Largo resident Kandi Schell recently moved into a mobile home and is acutely aware of the danger hurricanes pose to her home and two dogs, Bella and Oreo.
She filled a hurricane to-go bag with food, water and the dogs’ medical records.
In a pinch Schell said she would head to with her dogs if they had to evacuate during the day because she doesn’t know where the pet friendly shelters are.
If disaster struck in Pinellas County, it would be too late for Schell to get into a pet-friendly shelter. That's because the county's pet friendly shelters require pre-registration.
“The time to plan is now—when it’s sunny with no storm off the coast,” said Tom Iovino, Pinellas County communications specialist who focuses on hurricane preparedness.
He explained these decisions should be made in comfort, as now “you have a window of time that closes rapidly once a hurricane can be seen.”
In addition to a ready supply of pet food, medicine, records, a leash and a way to pick up after waste, pet owners need to plan for pet-friendly housing during a crisis.
In 2005, after experiencing 2004's Hurricane Leanne, the county converted three public schools into cat-and-dog-friendly shelters. Dunedin Middle School, Oak Grove Middle School and Thurgood Marshall Middle School are stocked to operate as emergency shelters for 3-4 days before the county would need to resupply or relocate people.
According to Iovino, schools are ideal as they already have the food, maintenance and management staff needs to run a shelter.
Mobile home residents like Schell would be given first priority in the event of an evacuation. Everyone, including mobile home owners, who need to use a pet-friendly shelter must call Animal Services at 727-582-2150 and preregister before a crisis to get a spot.
Iovino stressed that residents should still always seek an alternative to pet-friendly shelters.
“Rather than relying on shelters, have an evacuation plan that includes finding a friend, relative or coworker to host you and your pet. Check your bowling team or church group,” he said.
This is especially important for owners of less traditional pets, such as ferrets, birds or reptiles.
Pinellas County’s pet-friendly shelters only allow dogs and cats and according to Iovino most other disaster resources for pets operate the same way.
“Shelters should be considered lifeboats—not cruise ships,” he said.
To-Go Pet Survival Kit:
- Food and water: Pack at least a three-day supply of food and water, along with some treats to ease your pet’s nerves.
- Medicine: Keep an extra supply of anything your pet takes regularly in a waterproof container.
- Collar and leash: Pinellas County’s pet-friendly shelters don’t allow retractable leashes. While microchipping is recommended, you should also have an ID tag and rabies tag on the collar.
- First aid: Consult your veterinarian about the most important items for your pet or purchase a kit designed for pets.
- Medical records: Keep all immunization papers and documents regarding your pet’s medications together in a water proof container.
- Cleanup: Small bags, newspapers and disinfectant. For cats, pack a litter box and a supply of litter.
- Recent photo: A photo with you and your pet will be very helpful in case of separation. You can use the photo to help locate your pet as well as prove ownership.
- Carrier: You never know where you’ll end up in a disaster so you should keep a crate with you.
- Favorite toys: Your pet will be just as stressed as you are and a favorite doll can help calm him or her down.