Hurricane Irma passed through Florida last weekend, causing flooding, power outages, and so far, 26 confirmed deaths Amid the chaos of Irma's destruction and recent efforts to begin rebuilding, some of Florida's furriest friends were left behind. Now, the State Attorney's Office is coming after their owners, and owners of pets abandoned in Hurricane Irma will reportedly face charges.
According to WPTV, local law enforcement is teaming up with Palm Beach County Animal Care, a local shelter consisting of volunteers and animal control officers who are fighting to get justice for the animals left behind in the storm. Leaving a pet tied up unattended in Palm Beach is illegal, but officials are now saying the added danger of Irma bumps the crime up to a felony. Bustle has reached out to Palm Beach County Animal Care for further comment.
Diane Sauve, head of Palm Beach County Animal Care, described scenes of animals tied up outside while the storm came barreling toward Florida, bringing 100 mile per hour winds. "They are left in a yard, in a pen they cannot escape from or tethered to trees or poles," Sauve told WPTV.
Reports of dogs tied to parked cars or left on street corners have been common as pet owners left their homes and belongings behind to seek shelter from the storm. Sauve said she and her team are working with police to track down each abandoned pet's owner by using a paper trail or whatever means possible. State Prosecutor Dave Aronberg warned: "We will find you, and we will prosecute you."
Aronberg said authorities are working to gather any evidence that may be available, and described the act of leaving a dog tied up outside in a storm with the strength of Irma as "a prime example of animal cruelty." Palm Beach County Animal Care organizers admitted, however, it can be difficult to prosecute owners.
Palm Beach County Animal Care reports saving 49 dogs and two cats before Irma made landfall. These animals were tethered to trees or left abandoned outside, ABC Action News reported. These numbers are the latest before Irma hit. In the wake of the hurricane, other animals may still be outside or abandoned.
While animal control officers were able to save these animals, there are concerns that many more were inaccessible to rescuers and may have been injured in the storm. Palm Beach County Animal Care organizers say the high winds caused by Irma can throw objects at fast speeds, turning them into potentially lethal projectile objects that could severely injure an animal tied up outside.
Shelters throughout Florida, however, are accepting abandoned pets displaced by Irma, and volunteers are caring for the animals while hoping to find them new owners. As of Friday, Palm Beach County Animal Care had 100 dogs in their care. Like other shelters, Palm Beach County Animal Care is encouraging people to adopt by eliminating the adoption fee.
Animal control officers continued to respond to emergency calls up until curfew Saturday night before the storm hit. Now that the storm has passed, the shelter is re-opened and workers are planning to move some animals out of the state to areas that were not impacted, ABC Action News reported. “It’s unconscionable,” Sauve said. “We will not stand for it here in Palm Beach County.”
Sauve also said as residents in Florida are starting to return to their homes to assess the damages and begin repairs, if they see an animal that may be in danger, they should contact the Palm Beach County Animal Care group or their local shelter. Sauve also emphasized that there is a significant need for people to adopt the animals that have been abandoned or displaced by the storm, asking that those who can help do.