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Home / Articles / Columnists / Dog World with Tina /  Stay or Go? Hurricane Hardships
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Monday, October 9,2017

Stay or Go? Hurricane Hardships

By Tina Valant-Siebelts  

Having a child is a lifetime commitment, as is having a pet. Both rely upon us for shelter, food, water and love. Their care is our sole responsibility, especially when they are young, hurt, sick, old and in danger. We are rewarded with pets’ unconditional love, and loyalty. Deserting an elderly parent or a toddler is unthinkable, yet people left pets behind to fend for themselves. In Palm Beach county, an image of several dogs tied to a stop sign will forever haunt me. There is NEVER any reason to abandon a pet. It is punishable by law. Speechless, having just watched what Hurricane Harvey did to Texas, in south Florida, we felt an impending sense of doom as Irma approached. "The majority of Florida will experience major hurricane impact and deadly winds. We expect this along the entire east and west coasts," Governor Rick Scott stated at a news conference. "All Floridians should be prepared to evacuate."

It was confusing, as we were also being told, “Unless you’re in a manufactured home, coastal (east of Federal Highway), or in a low-lying area; supply up, hunker down and stay put”.

Purchasing a generator, securing your home (plywood became scarce) shutters, weather-stripping passageways, food and water can easily range into thousands of dollars. Do you stay and hope for the best, or take your chance on the highway, among scores of people also trying to escape? The costs of evacuation can be prohibitive. You need a reliable, gas-efficient vehicle, and cash reserves. You’ll face loss of wages, leaving the area/employment. Factor in lodging, food, and necessities - if you can find a place to evacuate to. There are almost seven million people in South Florida. Interstates 75 and 95 are two main ways out. No way could these two roads or gas stations accommodate the population, suddenly. Cars overheat, run out of gas, and gridlock occurs. If the hurricane arrives, evacuees face imminent danger.

Irma had her eye on Florida’s east coast, making landfall around West Palm Beach. And then, she just changed her mind, overnight. Thousands of people and their pets who had evacuated to the west coast put themselves directly in Irma’s ginormous revised track.

I was told by several well-meaning people, "Evacuate NOW, you’re going to die." Oh yea? Well, what about my nearly 90 year old mother in law, and her cat? What about my neighbors, who don’t have anyone close by to check on them? Others said, "Just get to a pet-friendly shelter. Your stuff isn’t worth dying for." Understand that the majority of pet shelters allow one pet (some with weight/breed limits) per person. Often this requires preregistering, and proof of ownership (vet records). I have multiple dogs, cats, birds, iguanas (no reptiles allowed at shelters) a bunny, and enclosures with butterflies-in-training. Can you just imagine me rolling up to a shelter?

Natural disasters can bring out the worst, but they also offer a multitude of opportunities to BE OUR BEST. Consider the first responders, volunteers, friends and neighbors opening their wallets, homes and hearts to strangers; and those who found/sheltered abandoned/stray animals.

Evacuating is an extremely PERSONAL decision, one that each person must make for themselves. When someone shares their decision to stay or go, RESPECT it and offer your thoughts, wishes, prayers and support. We must stay calm, be vigilant, kind and helpful to one another.

Tina Valant-Siebelts is a confirmed dog-o-holic, mom to many rescued pets, who volunteers with numerous organizations. To "fill all those dog bowls," Tina is an award-winning photographer, writer & event coordinator.


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