As hurricane season approaches, animal activists weigh in on law that would punish those who leave dogs behind in storms

As hurricane season approaches, animal activists weigh in on law that would punish those who leave dogs behind in storms
Jamie Kilgore plays with one of the New Hanover County Humane Society rescue dogs.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A proposed Florida bill is aiming to punish dog owners with fines or jail time if pets are abandoned during hurricanes.

Seven months after Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc across southeastern North Carolina, animal shelters and humane societies are still feeling the impacts, causing some to wonder if a similar bill would be beneficial in North Carolina.

Florida Senate Bill 1738 seeks in part to prohibit people from restraining their dogs outside and unattended during a natural disaster.

The bill states anyone who fails to include their dog in their disaster preparations by leaving them outside and restrained is committing animal cruelty.

Jamie Kiglore is the manager of the New Hanover County Humane Society, which opened its doors to a animal rescue task-force during the storm. Kilgore says she thinks this kind of law is too broad and would not account for individual circumstances.

“There’s two sides to it and there’s two sides to every story and you hate to just make a broad law that criticizes everyone or condemns everyone. That’s not meaning it’s ever OK to leave your animal behind but sometimes you catch yourself in a situation where you don’t have a choice," she said.

During Florence, the New Hanover County Humane Society opened its doors to Task Force 75, a swift water rescue team that used it as their base for animal rescues.

"We had about 40 animals here during our storm. They were all reclaimed by their owners which was excellent. A lot of it was in surrounding counties more than in New Hanover because of the flooding which everyone knows about,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore explained that while no dog or animal should be intentionally left, there are situations where it may not be possible to bring an animal along.

“Every situation is different during a hurricane, everyone has different traumas that go on. I would never leave my animal behind but I’ve not been in a situation where the water is rising and I have to pick between my kids or my dog. I would never say it’s OK to leave your dog chained outside or leave him in a house that’s going to be flooded or blow away for that matter. But to judge someone and fine them, every situation is going to be different so to me, it’s a tough call whether that kind of law is going to be beneficial or not,” she said.

Seven months after Florence, Kilgore says they are still seeing the long-term recovery impacts from the storm.

“Now we have animals that are surrendered because people are still displaced from the storm," she said. "They’ve stayed in housing with friends or family and now they’ve got to move to somewhere else where and they don’t allow pets so we’re still getting some hurricane related pets surrendered to us.”

As the 2019 hurricane season quickly approaches, Kilgore says now is the best time to plan ahead for possible disasters, to avoid abandoning animals completely.

“Just make a plan for your animal. You know they’re family members and you just can’t evacuate and leave them tied to a tree. There’s got to be some better recourse than that. I know that the local animal shelters will take them in and hold them until it’s all over with and you can go get your animal. There’s a lot of resources out there. There are co-location shelters the county runs where if you have to stay in a shelter you can bring your animal to that shelter so there’s a lot of options but you have to be prepared,” she said.

Currently, there is no similar bill proposed in the North Carolina General Assembly.

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