Pets and Hurricane Irma: Evacuation Efforts and Tips

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As Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, untold residents jam highways heading north. Vehicles bulge with provisions and precious, live cargo. Dogs poking their heads out of rear windows watch the skies darken as if someone was pulling a shade down over their world.

With the images of Harvey’s aftermath and a newly flattened Eastern Caribbean fresh in their minds, many evacuees can’t help but wonder if they will find their home after Irma cuts a wide swath across the Florida peninsula.

But the future should not overshadow the present. Here’s the latest on animal evacuation efforts - and some strong suggestions on how to proceed

  • The Humane Society spearheaded efforts to airlift at least 500 shelter animals Friday from south Florida to California ahead of Irma’s impact. Broward County Sheriff, Tony Israel, assembled a motorcade to safely escort the animals to their awaiting planes. The Tony La Russa Animal Foundation in Walnut Creek, California, accepted the animals and is working with local shelters and rescue groups to find forever homes for the animals. The move makes room for the transfer of rescues facing immediate danger in Key Largo. Ohio has also accepted nearly 200 pets from Florida shelters. The Portsmouth Humane Society in Virginia, which is housing pets rescued from Hurricane Harvey, is requesting volunteers to foster existing shelter animals in anticipation of an influx of rescues from Irma.
  • Southern Regional Director of the Humane society, Laura Bevan, implores Hurricane Irma evacuees to bring their companion animals along: “If it’s not safe for you to be there, it’s definitely not safe for them,” Bevan told Fox News. Bevan, who helped search for animals left behind in the wake of Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago, recalls that residents of a mobile home park were stunned upon returning to a pile of rubble after they had evacuated without their pets.
  • Nearly seven million Floridians face mandatory evacuation orders; many of those have pets. Check online at the Florida State Emergency Management page for evacuation status and tips. It is up to pet parents to research lists of pet-friendly shelters and hotels out of harm’s way. Bring ample supplies for you and your pets. Please bring your companion’s crate with you as your whole family may be more readily accepted at a shelter. Pet stores remaining open at this time are reportedly sold out of crates and transport carriers.
  • Susannah Bryan of the Sun Sentinal reports that Broward County has one pet-friendly shelter with capacity for 300 people and 500 animals which is reportedly at capacity “If everyone who signed up shows up.” Some registrants may have made other arrangements so space may be available. Evacuees are urged to bring tags and vaccination records and are required to remain with their pets at all times. Contact information for microchipped pets should have been updated.
  • Some people may be tempted to administer human Xanax to their pets. However, human psychopharmacological meds are not intended for use on animal companions (there is a pet version, but there are concerning side effects). Natural/herbal pet relaxing formulas are available. Spraying calming essential oils like lavender on crates, wrapping frightened dogs in a Thundershirt or having favorite snuggle toys and blankets handy are other safe and responsible alternatives. Of course, nothing beats constant reassurance offered from steady pet parents.
  • To those who choose to shelter in place, remember that it may be days - or weeks - before emergency responders can get to you. You must have sufficient food, water and medication to ride out the storm and it’s aftermath. If you and your pets survive, you are all entitled to evacuation under Public Law 109-308. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS) requires states seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance to accommodate pets and service animals in their plans for evacuating residents facing disasters.

To the survivors of Harvey and to those battling Irma, the world is with you - and your animal beloved.