Hurricane Irma: Pet owners have rights during evacuation, shelter during storms

As first Hurricane Harvey closed in and left a path of destruction in its wake, one thing you haven’t seen as much as in prior hurricanes is abandoned pets, cowering on the roofs of flooded homes.

That’s because after horrible scenes from Hurricane Katrina, many states, as well as the federal government, have set regulations on how rescue crews are to deal with family pets.

The turning point was the hurricane that battled New Orleans in 2005. Many people, approximately 44 percent, didn't leave their homes, not only because of their possessions, but they wouldn't leave their pets behind, and they couldn't take them to a shelter, The Washington Post reported.

A small dog named Snowball became a rallying point. He was taken from a child's arms who was getting on a bus to go to Texas as an evacuee. The bus did not allow pets. The Associated Press reported at the time that the boy cried so hard when his pet was taken, that he vomited.

The Louisiana SPCA said that more than 100,000 pets were left behind in Katrina. As many as 70,000 of them died in the Gulf Coast.

After Katrina, more than 30 states have a law, a plan or both, that spell out planning for pets and service animals.

Florida, which is in the bullseye of Hurricane Irma, has a state law that deals with emergency sheltering of pets.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has a plan spelled out. It designates what qualifies as a family pet that can have protection -- an animal like a dog, cat or rabbit -- vs. one that does not qualify, like reptiles, fish, insects or spiders.

It also explains the PETS Act, which was signed into law in October 2006. Under the act, FEMA can rescue, care, shelter and help those with pets and service animals after an emergency or disaster. It also covers the pets themselves.

The University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine said that there will be emergency shelters that will accept pets and their owners, and Gov. Rick Scott has asked hotels that normally say no to animals to lift their ban, USAToday reported.

In a statement from the UFC’s Veterinary Medicine program, officials reminded that, “If it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for your pet. There are many pet-friendly sheltering options allow the whole family to stay together.”