Hurricane Irma is churning away in the Atlantic, is potentially one week away from impacting Florida. Although the exact forecast track is still uncertain, the certainty is that this is a dangerous storm. This storm is different from Harvey that created devastation in Texas and Louisiana- since Harvey stalled and brought 50" of rain in certain areas. Irma's winds are currently close to 170 MPH as of this update- Irma is a strong Category 5 and capable of massive destruction if it makes landfall in any populated area. Do you have your plan set yet?
First thing that we need to do is gather supplies and make a plan as to where we're going to go if we are forced to evacuate.
If you need to evacuate, remember that most shelters in our area do not accept pets. If you routinely board your pet(s) at a kennel or 'doggie day care' check with their staff to learn about their hurricane policies and procedures. Remember, their employees may need to evacuate too- so they may not be able to remain open during a storm. Don't assume you will be able to board your pets in the event of a storm at your regular facility, including here at Tampa Veterinary Hospital.
Where am I going to go with my family and pets?
Option 1: Friends/Family
Seek out friends or family who live outside of the storm's path, if possible. Consideration should be given to their ability to house another family, including additional pets. Contact them months in advance prior to hurricane season to make sure that your family and pets will be welcome in the event of a hurricane.
Option 2: Hotel/Motel
Find a pet-friendly hotel outside of the projected path of the storm. Although this would be an added expense during an already stressful time, having a safe and secure location for your family and pets is well worth the peace of mind. There are hundreds of pet-friendly hotels throughout the state. Below are some websites which can help you select the right hotel for you and your family. Find a few properties in different locations throughout the state that would meet your specific needs. Put their numbers in your cell phone so you have them at the ready if you need to evacuate.
Here are some online resources with listings of pet-friendly accommodations throughout the country.
Option 3: Evacuation/Emergency Shelter
The options here are highly limited in our area, as Hillsborough County only offers four pet-friendly shelters and Pinellas only listing three. This should be considered a last option if you must evacuate, as living conditions will be less than ideal, and you are still within the storm's path. Pet-friendly shelters in Hillsborough County are a first-come, first-served basis- so if your nearest shelter is full, you will be denied entry. Pinellas County requires pre-registration for their pet-friendly shelters. There is a link below to their website where you can access the pre-registration form. Priority is given to individuals/families in mobile homes.
All shelters will require proof of vaccination. I have reached out to Hillsborough County, and at this time, the only vaccine requirement is for Rabies. Of course, we recommend keeping your pet up to date on all vaccines including Parvo/Distemper, Bordetella and the Canine Influenza vaccine, which is highly contagious. Due to the recent Influenza outbreak, the county may rethink their requirements (and in my opinion, they should) and require the Influenza vaccine. This is at the County's discretion and may change. If it changes- we will post updates here.
Pinellas county requires pre-registration for their pet-friendly shelters and preference is given to families in mobile homes and within evacuation zones A,B and C. If you live in Pinellas County and have no other place to evacuate to, pre-register for a location now, so you may be approved well in advance of the storm. Hillsborough county does not require pre-registration, but space is limited in each shelter. Have a plan B if you are unable to get into a shelter which accepts pets. For more information on shelters for both counties:
Resources for Hillsborough County, including pet-friendly shelters and requirements click here.
Pinellas County, indluding pet-friendly shelters click here.
Option 4: Stay in your residence
This option should NEVER be used if you live in an area which is under a mandatory evacuation. ALWAYS follow the direction of your local emergency management officials. Shelter in place only if you are not under a mandatory evacuation, and only if you are positive your residence can withstand the punishment from the storm. DO NOT, EVER leave your pet behind in your residence, nor should you use your pet as an excuse to ignore evacuation orders. Period.
If you are staying within your residence, prepare an area in the interior section of your house for your family to include your pets. As the storm approaches, place your pets in a pet crate with some comfort items such as a blanket, pet bed or favorite toys. Your pets will most likely become anxious and frightened during the height of the storm. If your home is damaged during the storm, a sturdy crate or pet carrier will be the safest place for them, and lessens the potential for escape.
I strongly suggest having each of your pets microchipped. Microchip technology reunites more lost pets with their owners than any other method. If your pet should escape or become lost during a hurricane or for any other reason, a microchip implanted between the shoulder blades of your pet is the most reliable way to have your pet returned to you.
Determining where you are going to go is just step one. Now, you need to gather your pet's storm supplies to ensure their health and safety during and after the storm.
Here is your checklist of things you will need FOR EACH PET:
Proof of Vaccinations- if you plan on evacuating to a emergency shelter, proof of vaccines will be required. Be sure you check with your local shelters to learn about their specific rules and what else will be required. As I mentioned earlier, these requirements are at the discretion of each county and may change due to the recent outbreak of Canine Influenza. We suggest having your pet current on ALL vaccines to keep them protected.
Two-weeks worth of food
Feeding and water dishes
Manual can opener if your pet eats canned food
Two weeks worth of fresh water
Cat litter, newspaper or other cat litter material
Plastic bags for handling pet waste
2 weeks worth of any medication(s)
Cage/Pet carrier- Pet carriers or crates should be large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around. It should also have secure doors to prevent escape.
Current photo of pet
Adhesive tape such as vet wrap
Comfort items such as chew toys, blankets or pet beds.
I will keep my fingers crossed for another quiet hurricane season, but in the meantime, I will be gathering my supplies and calling my relatives on the east coast to let them know I'm heading towards them if a major storm has designs on the Tampa Bay region. Please heed my advice and prepare. Your pets will thank you for it.