Florida residents who leave their pets restrained and unattended during natural or manmade disasters could face up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $5,000 under a new measure approved by the Senate Agricultural Committee.
The proposal (Senate Bill 1738), was sponsored by Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) and was in response to actions by pet owners during hurricanes Matthew, Irma, and Michael.
"We’ve seen these three hurricanes and seen numerous dogs left tethered to different things," Gruters said. "We want to give dogs a fighting chance."
People found to have abandoned their pets during natural or manmade disasters would be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor of animal cruelty.
"As a dangerous storm approaches, many residents flee to safer areas, and some leave their pets behind. The Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control director reported that many pets are left chained to trees and parked cars, as their owner left them behind to “ride out the storm” on their own," a Senate staff analysis of the bill said. "During Hurricane Irma, 49 dogs and two cats were rescued by animal control officers. In Palm Beach County, it is illegal for anyone to leave a dog tied up without the owner being present, but it is considered animal cruelty and a felony when done during a storm."
Several local counties - including Miami-Dade County, Miami, Pembroke Park, Palm Beach County, Fernandina Beach, Mount Dora, Collier, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Martin, Okaloosa, Pinellas, Sarasota and St. Lucie counties - have their own laws on the books about leaving pets tied up during storms.
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