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2017 Hurricane Season: Pet owners must come up with a plan for their animals before the storm strikes

By Sara DiNatale, Times Staff Writer
Published: May 16, 2017
When it's storming outside, your cats and dogs will (likely) be hiding under the bed instead of preparing themselves for an evacuation.

When it's storming outside, your cats and dogs will (likely) be hiding under the bed instead of preparing themselves for an evacuation.

It's not their job to get ready for a hurricane. It's your job to get them ready.

"Your pets are your responsibility just as much as the other members of your family," said Dr. Sonja Olson, a senior clinician for BluePearl Veterinarian Partners, "and part of that responsibility is to be prepared."

Think of what your pet will need to get by for a few days:

Bring extra food and sealable bags to store it in; think two weeks of regular food and four weeks if your pet is on a prescription diet; also get a month's supply of your pet's prescription medication; your pet will also need its own supply of bottled water, just like the rest of the family, but also bowls to drink out of; and a favorite toy or blanket.

But what if you're separated from your pet during a storm? SPCA Tampa Bay recommends having your pets microchipped in case you lose them. Make sure you have the contact information for your microchip provider to help you locate your missing animal. Also make sure to give your most current contact information to the pet recovery service.

Have a pet carrier ready, along with leashes, harnesses, a portable litter box or whatever else you may need to make travel as easy as possible.

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay has checklists for different kinds of animals (even horses) on its website (, if you're worried you might forget something in the chaos.

The most important thing, according to veterinarians, is having a plan of where you and your animals can go long before a storm hits. Remember: Most shelters don't take pets, so you need to plan your evacuation ahead of time.

Ideally, this would be a friend or family member's home who lives on higher ground or away from any potential danger. Chances are, that's where you and your animals will be most comfortable. You can also seek out animal friendly hotels and motels.

There are certain shelters in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties that allow animals, but generally only dogs and cats. They typically fill up on a first-come, first-serve basis. Often, these shelters will want your pet's updated records for proof of shots or their county license, so have those on hand.

Looking out for pets during a hurricane became a big issue when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. Many stayed behind to protect their pets, and those who evacuated weren't able to get back to their pets for weeks. Left by themselves, an estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced by the storm, according to the ASPCA, or died because of Katrina.

That's why the experts say it's best to have a plan (and a backup plan) for you and your animals before a storm hits.

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

These Tampa Bay evacuation shelters take pets:

Hillsborough County

Sgt. Smith Middle School, 14303 Citrus Pointe Drive, Tampa

Bartels Middle School, 9020 Imperial Oak Blvd., Tampa

Shields Middle School, 15732 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin

Burnett Middle School, 1010 N Kingsway Road, Seffner

Hernando County

D.S. Parrott Middle School, 19220 Youth Drive, Brooksville

Pasco County

Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter, 11611 Denton Ave., Hudson

Pinellas County

Oak Grove Middle School, 1370 S Belcher Road, Clearwater

John Hopkins Middle School, 701 16th St. S, St. Petersburg

Dunedin Middle School, 70 Patricia Ave., Dunedin