Amid the chaos and panic of a natural disaster, it is more important than ever to keep track of loved ones, follow evacuation protocol, and act responsibly. Imagine the magnified fear of a family pet, caught up in the whirlwind of anxious activity. Natural disasters provoke a flight response for good reason, but thanks to a new bill passed by the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee, pet owners will face fines or even jail time if they abandon their pets during extreme weather evacuations.
Florida has been hit hard by extreme weather in recent years, and has amassed numerous cases of animal abandonment as a result. Following a hurricane forecast, residents flee the area taking only the most essential items. Unfortunately, in the panic, some leave their animals behind. Some pets are even left thoughtlessly chained up, or enclosed, with absolutely no chance of making their own escape.
However, there’s every chance that a new bill could delimit the number of animals left behind during the next natural disaster. As reported by WPTV, the new bill, approved on Monday, March 18, 2019, states that pet owners who abandon or restrain their pets during evacuations could face a hefty fine of up to $5,000. They could also face jail time.
Pet abandonment, under the new bill, is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor.
Recent hurricanes Irma (2017), and Michael (2018) saw an alarming rise in the number of owned animals being abandoned or tied up and left behind. A Senate staff commentary on the new bill was illuminating: “The Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control director reported that many pets are left chained to trees and parked cars,” they said, “as their owner left them behind to ‘ride out the storm’ on their own.”
Hurricane Irma gleaned particularly distressing statistics, with 49 dogs and two cats being left behind to be picked up by animal control officers. Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control director Dianne Sauve told USA Today that some were tied up, and others were caged or enclosed with no means of getting out.
“There is absolutely no excuse for doing that,” Sauve shared.
The Florida Department of Health have long been on the case, urging pet owners to act responsibly during evacuation procedures. They sent out a tweet in the midst of Hurricane Irma: “Do not leave your dogs tied up or chained when evacuating. Floodwaters are dangerous for people & pets,” they advised.
Sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, is right behind the new bill. “We’ve seen these three hurricanes and seen numerous dogs left tethered to different things,” Gruters stated, hopeful that the bill will make a difference. “We want to give dogs a fighting chance,” he added.
A number of neighboring local governments already have bills about restraining and enclosing dogs during natural disasters. Our owned pets are extremely vulnerable when disaster strikes, and the Florida bill seems to follow an exponentially growing initiative to keep pets safe from harm.
The issue is close to the hearts of a number of people in high places, and as such, the bill was passed without any objection by the Senate Agriculture Committee.