Hurricane season begins in two weeks - just enough time to create a plan for your pets' safety should a storm threaten.
Not sure where to begin? Here's what the SPCA Tampa Bay suggests:
First, dismiss any notion of leaving pets behind when you evacuate. If it's not safe for humans, it's not safe for pets, either.
Before a storm approaches, find out whether your home is in an evacuation zone, and if so, which level. That will help you know when and if you have to evacuate. An accompanying list will help you find that information.
Public shelters may be available for waiting out the storm, but few accept pets, so you should develop a different plan.
"It really needs to be a last resort," says Welsh Agnew, director of veterinary services for Pinellas County.
Four shelters in Hillsborough County and three in Pinellas allow pets. Hillsborough is first come-first serve; Pinellas requires preregistration. Animal shelters do not accept pet evacuees.
Ideally, pets should stay with you. Find a friend or family member ahead of time willing to welcome both you and your pets. An alternative might be a pet-friendly hotel or motel outside the evacuation zone. Call now to make tentative reservations, check their policies on accepting pets and any restrictions regarding the size or species allowed.
If you can't find a place for both you and your pets, make arrangements at a veterinary office or boarding facility near home but outside evacuation zones. The closer you can stay to your pet or pets, the better. That way, if you cannot return home for days or weeks, you can visit pets regularly to reassure them.
Once you've solved that problem, pull together your pet's "survival kit" according to the accompanying checklist.
There's a silver lining in the storm clouds of each hurricane: We learn something new. Heeding past lessons should ensure both you and your pets weather any storm.
Write to pet-lifestyle expert Kristen Levine at Fetching Communications, P.O. Box 222, Tarpon Springs FL 34688; e-mail kristen
PET SURVIVAL KIT CHECKLIST
•Collar (dogs) or harness (cats) with tags and sturdy leash
•Medical records and vaccination history in a sealable plastic bag
•Medications with dispensing instructions
•Current photo of pet with your name, address, phone number, e-mail address on back
•Carrier or crate for transporting
•Two-week supply of food and water in airtight containers
•Manual can opener (if you feed canned food)
•Cat litter, liners and a pan
•Plastic trash bags for waste
•Brushes for grooming and toys or comfort items
•ID on all belongings
•Veterinary and other important contact information
FIND YOUR EVACUATION ZONE
•Hillsborough County Emergency Management; (813) 236-3800, www.hillsboroughcounty.org/emergency/home.cfm
•Pinellas County Emergency Management; (727) 464-3800, www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/default.htm
•Southwest Florida Water Management District (for flood plan information); (800) 423-1476, www.swfwmd.state.fl.us
•Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (for storm surge maps); www.tampabaydisaster.org
A PLACE TO STAY
Register in advance at the shelter. Bring proof of current rabies vaccination, a carrier, and supplies. No reservations will be accepted.
•Burnett Middle School, 1010 Kingsway Road N., Seffner
•Sickles High School, 7950 Gunn Highway, Tampa
•Bartels Middle School, 9020 Imperial Oak Blvd., Tampa
•Shields Middle School, 15732 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin
Advance registration is required. Call (727) 582-2150 or visit www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices.
•Oak Grove Middle School, 1370 S. Belcher Road, Clearwater
•Dunedin Highland Middle School, 70 Patricia Ave., Dunedin
•Thurgood Marshall Middle School, 3901 22nd Ave. S., St. Petersburg