People and businesses weren’t the only ones affected by Hurricane Irma and forced to prepare accordingly. Pets and those animals waiting to become pets also had to be taken into consideration during the storm.
In St. Johns County, two pet-friendly shelters located at Timberlin Creek Elementary and South Woods Elementary were available for evacuees and their furry family members. Paul Studivant, animal control operations manager for St. Johns County, said the county understands the necessity of making pet-friendly shelters available to residents.
He said there were fewer animals housed at the shelters for Irma than for Matthew, however, surmising that experiencing the 2016 hurricane prompted residents to make other, earlier arrangements for their pets this time around.
During Hurricane Matthew, he said 131 pets were sheltered at Timberlin Creek Elementary, while 175 were at South Woods Elementary. For Irma, 82 pets were sheltered at Timberlin Creek Elementary, while 73 were at South Woods Elementary.
County shelters suggest evacuees have current vaccination records, crates and cages and food and supplies upon arrival, but Studivant said people – and pets – won’t be turned away if that isn’t done.
“Of course, we ask that they have records, in case of a biting, and that they bring anything the pet would need, but if they happen to forget, we can help,” he said. “We have a limited supply of carriers and food, but we will do our best to accommodate them.”
Pet safety and shelters became a big issue after a lack of pet-friendly shelters was blamed for many people deciding not to leave their homes during Hurricane Katrina, which slammed the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. In response to that storm, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was passed in October 2006. The legislation requires local and state authorities to include pets in disaster plans if they want to qualify for federal emergency grants. It also authorized the use of federal funds for pet-friendly shelters.
Studivant said he believes St. Johns County was ahead of the curve in providing a safe place for people to escape to with their pets.
“We tried to be proactive,” he said. “We were on the forefront, even before Katrina, offering shelter for pets. If someone showed up in need, we tried to accommodate them the best we could.”
Some parts of Florida also had problems during Irma with people leaving their animals outside or tied up and unable to escape storm conditions. In Palm Beach County, pet owners who abandoned their animals to escape the storm could be charged with animal cruelty. Animals found tied up or caged in that county could result in felony charges for owners.
But Studivant said St. Johns County residents, for the most part, appeared to take proper precautions when it came to caring for their pets, particularly this time around. He said there were fewer calls regarding abandoned or chained animals than during Matthew. Most calls came out of the southwest area of the county where flooding was a big issue, and animal control was called to rescue.
“I’m not aware of any deaths,” Studivant said. “All the animals that there were calls about were accounted for.”
Flooding at Ayla’s Acres
Many animals that may not have owners or a forever home were helped by community nonprofits, some of which took a hit themselves in their efforts to save lives.
At Ayla’s Acres No-Kill Animal Rescue, a St. Augustine-based nonprofit, flooding from Irma halted the organization’s primary means of resources.
The thrift shop, which was located at 142 King St. in St. Augustine, flooded, forcing the store to close. The organization plans to open it again as a pop-up in a warehouse off U.S. 1 and hopes to have that in place by Oct. 1. In the meantime, the shelter and sanctuary are unable to benefit from funds the thrift shop generally provides.
The animals from the organization’s St. Johns County facility were in foster care and accounted for, said Fran Charlson, director of Ayla’s Acres, which also runs a sanctuary located in Greenville, Florida. The sanctuary houses and cares for “unadoptable” domestic and farm animals, many of which have been abused or abandoned, and their safety was a priority for the organization.
“We had 190 animals at our sanctuary, and all survived,” Charlson said. “Thankfully, the hurricane turned enough, so even though we lost some trees, no animals were harmed.”
Preparations were made at the sanctuary ahead of time to guarantee the best possible outcome.
“We have a generator, we had crates and moved as many animals inside as we possibly could,” Charlson said. “Our biggest danger was trees falling, so we moved animals out of the way to safety, and we had excess food and water.”
Now the organization just hopes it can get its thrift shop back up and running and have enough funds to continue to do its work for homeless and abandoned animals.
“Our needs now our mostly monetary,” Charlson said. “The thrift shop provides most of the funding for food and vet care.”
For more information on Ayla’s Acres and to find out how to help, visit www.aylasacres.org or call (650) 520-5201.