How Hurricane Irma affected pets and their owners
A U.S. Air Force member joins in relief efforts for pets affected by Hurricane Irma. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

How Hurricane Irma affected pets and their owners

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A U.S. Air Force member joins in relief efforts for pets affected by Hurricane Irma. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force.
A U.S. Air Force member joins in relief efforts for pets affected by Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force)
A Humane Society sign almost blown away by Hurricane Irma. Photo courtesy of Nalani Simpson.
A Humane Society sign almost blown away by Hurricane Irma.                              (Photo courtesy of Nalani Simpson)

After learning that the strongest Atlantic basin hurricane ever recorded was headed directly for Florida, many packed up their belongings, filled up on gas and hastily left the state. Others needed to deal with an additional concern: the well-being of their pets. As most pet owners know, protecting family means protecting your beloved animal companions.

Every Floridian should take storm preparations seriously and be aggressive to protect their family,” Florida Governor Rick Scott tweeted on Sept. 6.

For those 6.5 million Floridians who had been ordered to evacuate, finding shelter for pets was difficult.

Of the 20 emergency shelters opened to Sarasota residents, only five opened their doors to cats and dogs. These five included Brookside Middle School, Riverview High School, North Port High School, Heron Creek Middle School and Woodland Middle School.

These dog and cat-friendly shelters required that one provided proof of current license and vaccination, that pets were kept in an appropriate pet crate, that all items required for the pet were taken care of by the pet owner, that the pet owner takes responsibility of the pet while in the shelter and that cohabitation of pets and pet owners was prohibited.

If pet owners were unable to meet these requirements, they were advised “to make other arrangements to shelter [their] pet.”

As a result, some owners surrendered their pets to local animal shelters. Sadly, others simply abandoned their animals. Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control received multiple calls about pets abandoned outside of homes.

“Absolutely unacceptable. People need to be responsible pet owners in this community,” State Attorney Dave Aronbeg told WPTV.

“[T]here is no excuse for leaving your pet behind to die. We are going to hold accountable those who we can prove left their dogs behind in the storm.”

Aronberg is teaming up with Animal Care and Control to investigate, interviewing neighbors, interrogating owners and tracking microchips.

Anyone who surrenders or abandons their dog is placed on a no-adopt list.

Those responsible pet owners who chose to bear the storm from home were able to protect their furry friends in many ways. First and foremost, it was crucial that owners stocked up on food and water for their pets.

Staying with pets in a safe location–a central room without any windows, for example–was enough for some. Pet owners with scared cats and frightened dogs were advised to keep their animals near them in carriers, as small spaces make some pets feel more secure. Adding some familiar-scented toys and clothing items had also been advised to help.

For the Humane Society of Sarasota County (HSSC), music played an important role in minimizing the anxiety of the animals.

“Goodley Entertainment Group […] graciously donated surround-sound speakers in our dog kennels, so our dogs enjoy the sounds of Bach, Chopin, and even some Bob Marley to keep them calm,” Communications Coordinator Nalani Simpson wrote in an email interview.

“Studies show classical and reggae music can reduce stress levels in animals, and our animals seem to agree.”

In addition to helping the animals feel at ease, the staff at HSSC worked around the clock to ensure that their shelter would provide adequate safety.

Of the 20 emergency shelters opened to Sarasota residents, only five opened their doors to cats and dogs. Photo courtesy of Nalani Simpson.
The staff at HSSC worked and stayed at the shelter to ensure that it would provide adequate safety for the animals.        (Photo courtesy of Nalani Simpson)

“HSSC contacted the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to be prepared to evacuate our animals in the event of the storm hitting us directly at over a Category 3 hurricane,” Simpson wrote.

“HSSC’s shelter is built to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, so as the storm neared and decreased in intensity, an executive decision was made to keep the animals at our shelter as we knew the safest place our animals could be was in HSSC’s care.”

The shelter was boarded with hurricane shutters and sandbags were placed along the kennels that were likely to experience flooding. Satellite phones were also distributed to HSUS, the shelter’s Executive Director and the shelter’s emergency crew in order to maintain communication in the event of power outages.

In addition, there were six HSSC emergency crew staff members who stayed at the shelter for over 72 hours straight, ensuring that all of the cats and dogs were okay.

“HSSC’s emergency crew included one veterinarian, a certified disaster-preparedness HSSC staff member, our Maintenance Manager, and other medically-trained HSSC employees,” Simpson wrote.

As far as food and water were concerned, HSSC received enough donations from the public that they did not have to buy additional supplies.

“We are happy to report HSSC is in operable condition, and all our animals are safe thanks to our wonderful emergency crews, staff, and volunteers,” Simpson wrote.

Now that the storm has passed, HSSC is undertaking various efforts to issue help and relief for animals in need. A social media campaign dubbed #ClearTheShelter is urging the community to provide support.

“HSSC is asking to #ClearTheShelter to help other animals across the state who have been affected by Hurricane Irma,” Simpson wrote. “HSSC has reduced adoption fees for all animals in our care to just $10 to clear space to help more animals in need.”

In addition to providing supplies to shelters across the state, HSSC donated $10,000 in medical care to all of the animals at the Sarasota County Animal Services (SCAS).

“Every animal in need of medical care at SCAS will be transported to the Animal Clinic of HSSC to receive free treatment,” Simpson wrote. “The Animal Clinic of HSSC is open to the public, has no income requirements, and is an affordable, quality veterinary clinic.”

If one would like to help both HSSC and animals in need following Hurricane Irma, one can adopt or donate to the shelter. A wish list of their most-needed items can be found at

Information obtained from,,, and

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