Officials: Pet-friendly shelter at Ochwilla requires owners to stay with animals

As shelters open Saturday in preparation for Hurricane Irma, Putnam County Animal Control officials are urging people to follow procedures before going to the pet-friendly shelter.

Six shelters will be open for people to take refuge from the Category 5 hurricane, but Ochwilla Elementary, 299 State Road 21 in Hawthorne, is the only shelter that allows pets.

Lisa Suarez, the codes enforcement agent who oversees Animal Control, said many people went to Ochwilla unprepared during Hurricane Matthew last year, and the county would like to prevent that from happening again.

“People were bringing animals that weren’t vaccinated, and we can’t risk that,” Suarez said. “We had people who came without crates.”

There are certain requirements to which people must adhere before and during their stay at the Ochwilla shelter, Suarez said.

Pet owners must bring with their pet a leash, water and pet food for three to five days, water and food bowls, a carrier large enough to fit the pet, medicines, identification collar with proof of rabies shot or other proof of vaccination, and cat litter, Suarez said.

There is also a limit on the type of animals people can bring to the shelter, she said. Only cats, kittens, dogs and puppies are allowed in the shelter, and pet owners also must stay at the shelter.

“This is not a drop off,” Suarez said.

When Hurricane Matthew brushed past the county, Suarez said, Animal Control had to turn away some people because they tried to drop off their pets and evacuate to other areas, they didn’t provide proof of registration or they tried to bring animals that weren’t allowed.

“Last year, I had someone try to bring a horse,” Suarez said.

Code Enforcement and Animal Control officials will staff the Ochwilla shelter while it’s open for the hurricane. Suarez said people must fill out a registration form before being allowed to stay in the shelter, and officials will take pictures of pets and their owners for reference.

Suarez said pet owners much feed, water, walk and clean up after their pets while at the shelter, but they are not allowed to sleep with their pets.

Pets and people will be kept in separate rooms, she said.

For information about pet-friendly shelter policies, call Animal Control at 329-0396, option 1.