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5 ways to help Florida animal shelters after Hurricane Ian

There's so much you can do, even if you live far away.

You’re not alone if you felt helpless watching as category four Hurricane Ian, one of the strongest in Florida’s history, wreaked havoc on certain parts of the state. Even before the storm hit, communities like animal shelters began feeling the impending storm’s impacts — hardships they’re still recovering from today.

“Days before and on the day of Hurricane Ian, our intake lobby was overloaded with surrendered animals,” Cassandra Carter, a pet advisor at Fetch’s shelter partner Humane Society of Tampa Bay (HSTB), said. 

Carter explained how “good samaritans” began dropping off wandering abandoned animals. Quickly, the organization found themselves at capacity, forced to recommend other shelters in the area or ask people to hang onto the animals until the storm passed.

“Turning pets away isn’t something we’ve experienced before,” Carter added — and reaching capacity occurred even with the shelter’s storm preparedness plan in place. The organization made sure they had enough staff and volunteers to operate normally, along with staff that stayed with the animals during the storm. 

Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS), another Fetch shelter partner, started to prepare for the hurricane early, too. 

“Before Ian was projected to hit Jacksonville, we asked community members to foster pets during the storm through our ‘Storm Troopers’ program,” Olivia Spiecker, a community engagement assistant at JHS, explained. 

Eighty-nine pets (including 34 dogs and 55 cats) were placed in homes throughout the community before the storm, proving to be a massive success. 

RELATED: How to adopt a pet: a step-by-step guide

Since our shelter partners HSTB and JHS were built with hurricane safety in mind, their locations stood strong during the storm. Not only were the animals they hosted safe, but once they were able to accommodate more, they did by offering space to abandoned pets and providing support to more severely-impacted animal shelters. 

JHS alone welcomed 50 cats from other rescue organizations who suffered more ruin. And since staying at the rescue organization, most of the cats were adopted out to forever homes. 

Even though those cats found homes, there are still plenty more at Florida-based shelters, like JHS and HSTB (and beyond), that need loving homes.

“Adopt if you can provide a safe and loving home for a pet,” Carter recommended. If you can’t welcome a forever pet into your life, Carter also suggested fostering to help pets socialize and feel safe before they find their eventual home. 

For those who want to help Florida’s animal shelters but can’t make the trek there, visit your local animal shelters to see how they’re volunteering their efforts. For example, Brandywine Valley SPCA (BVSPCA), a Fetch shelter partner located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, made the tremendous effort to airlift over 66 pets from Florida shelters to their facilities up north (with future transports in the works). 

“As Ian was evolving into a hurricane and set to hit Florida, BVSPCA had already begun planning and immediately started to bring existing shelter pets up north to clear space for all of the animals they knew would be displaced,” Chrissy Devlin, a pet advisor at BVSPCA, said. 

But if you’re not in a place to adopt or foster a pet, that’s OK, too. Spiecker said it’s a good idea to check in directly with impacted rescue organizations or local animal shelters who are helping the cause in Florida to see what they need. Some might need specific pet accessories like beds, towels, toys, blankets or food but others might prefer cash donations. As Devlin echoed, “Every single penny helps.”

One of the best ways to help Florida shelters (or those that are involved from afar, like BVSPCA) is to volunteer. “Individuals wishing to help can also give the gift of time,” Devlin explained. “Volunteers are needed to help with transports, training, medical care, walking dogs and so much more. One of the most important things a volunteer can do is something as simple as cleaning.”

Something to keep in mind when considering how to help animal shelters (or even communities) after natural disasters are that cleanups and repairs can take years. “It’s important for people to not forget about families, neighborhoods and communities impacted by storms and to keep supporting them until they’re fully rebuilt,” Spiecker added.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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Photo by North Shore Animal League

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