A Look at the PETS Act and Related Florida Law in the Wake of Hurricane Ian
On September 28, 2022, destruction hit Florida’s Gulf Coast as Hurricane Ian, the second most deadly storm to devastate the continental U.S. this century, made landfall. Thousands of homes faced unprecedented levels of storm surge and over 4 million Floridians lost power as the category 4 winds hit. With at least 56% of households in Florida owning pets, evacuating for hurricanes is not always easy. One study found that during Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, 44% of individuals chose not to evacuate out of the fear of leaving their pets behind. In total, between 100,000 and 250,000 pets were stranded, and between 70,000 and 150,000 beloved pets lost their lives to Hurricane Katrina. In response to the ever-increasing threat of hurricanes, both in size and strength each year, there have been changes in federal and state law over recent years to protect pets and their owners.
The PETS Act
In approving standards for [s]tate and local emergency preparedness operational plans pursuant to subsection (b)(3), the [d]irector shall ensure that such plans take into account the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals prior to, during, and following major disaster or emergency.
The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, also known as the PETS Act, was passed and codified into federal law following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It requires states to include the needs of households with pets and service animals in emergency preparedness operational plans in order to receive federal funding for those plans. These needs typically include aspects such as creating emergency shelters that can accommodate individuals with pets, or allowing those pets onto evacuation buses with their owners.
From an operational standpoint, the PETS Act is executed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as through non-profit organizations that assist in establishing emergency animal-friendly shelters. On October 24, 2007, FEMA established the Disaster Assistance Policy (DAP) 9523.19, which defines which animals fall under the act, along with guidelines for what qualifies for reimbursement for state’s operational plan expenditures. Activities eligible for reimbursement include those such as emergency veterinary services, the cleaning and maintenance of emergency shelters, creating cataloging and tracking systems and more. Since the passage of the PETS Act and DAP 9523.151, Florida has become one of over 30 states to revise their disaster relief plans to include a focus on household pets and service animals. For example, F.S. §252.3568 maintains that if a county establishes a designated emergency shelter, it must also designate a shelter for individuals with household pets.
“It is therefore declared to be the public policy of the state that animal control agencies and humane organizations shall adopt policies and procedures to help return lost cats or dogs to identified owners.”
An expansion of F.S. §252.3568 occurred in 2018 with the enactment of §823.151. F.S. §823.151 recognizes that many animals become lost during hurricanes and other natural disasters, and that those animals deserve a reasonable chance to be reunited with their owners before being transported, adopted out, or euthanized. The statute requires shelters to scan strays for microchips, and make reasonable attempts to contact owners. Specifically, the law provides that shelters should post notices of lost pets, extend stray hold periods, and post announcements to the public about the shelter’s location, hours, and fees, among other policies. Arguably, one of the most important policies requires shelters to create strategies for pets to be reunited directly with their owners, even those who cannot make it to the shelter in person where their pet is being held. With the aftermath of Hurricane Ian being so recent, and affecting so many Floridians, all eyes are on the implementation of F.S. §823.151 to see exactly how the law will be utilized.
Where These Laws Fall Short
As with any law or policy, the PETS Act, DAP 9523.19, and F.S. §823.151 have their flaws, the biggest being that these laws do not protect enough animals. To start, DAP 9523.19, makes sure to notate that reptiles other than turtles, amphibians, fish, insects and arachnids, farm animals (including horses), and animals kept for racing purposes are not considered household animals, therefore, states do not have to include them in their emergency operational plan. Furthermore, under DAP 9523.19, “household pet” is limited to domesticated dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, and turtles, not kept for commercial purposes. While the definition of “service animals” does extend the scope beyond dogs, it is nonetheless more limited under the “household pet” definition. “Service animals” are defined as guide dogs, signal dogs, or other animals that provide assistance to an individual with a disability.
Florida alone has over 385,000 horses, with the horse industry annually generating $6.8 billion for the state. When it comes to beef cows, Florida has 3% of the U.S. total (929,000) and 1.2% of the U.S. total of dairy cows (111,000). Florida’s beef cattle, by themselves, generate over $1 billion for the state every year. None of these animals, whether considered commercial or family pet, are protected under the PETS Act or §823.151.
This is an even more concerning issue in the wake of Hurricane Ian, with one Manatee County farmer having lost over 250 cows in the storm. Unfortunately, he is not the only one. Researchers at the University of Florida performed a preliminary assessment post-hurricane, based on these commercial animal losses alone, and has estimated a loss of $222 million worth of “animals and animal products.” From an animal activist perspective, it seems to be an easy argument to make that “household pet” should be broadened to save more animals. From an economic perspective, it is perhaps an even simpler argument that these animals should be protected for the sheer influence they have on Florida’s economy.
Another important flaw in these laws is the requirement that a state of emergency must be declared before pet-friendly shelters can be established or DAP 9523.19 can be utilized. This is an issue because many times a state of emergency is not declared until the later days of a disaster. Along with this, other issues, such as receipt retention for reimbursement, meeting work sheet monetary minimums, and a need for federal identification numbers or proof of non-profit status, tend to slow the process of establishing assistance and receiving funding.
While it will likely take a larger legal push or another serious disaster before laws provide more protection for a broader array of animals, as it stands now, the growth of animal law pertaining to hurricanes and natural disasters is slow moving, but on the rise.
Florida State Agricultural Response Team
There is one group in the state of Florida with the sole purpose of stepping in when there are animal and agriculture emergencies: the Florida State Agricultural Response Team (SART). SART is statutorily authorized by F.S. §252.3569, which mandates that during emergency or disaster situations, SART works with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to oversee emergency management functions involving the state’s response activities to animal, agriculture, and vector issues. SART is made up of both governmental and private entities that work together to respond to hurricanes, floods, wildfires, foreign animal diseases, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food adulteration, and vector control.
SART was utilized for Hurricane Ian on September 25, 2022, when the FDACS Emergency Support Function (ESF) 17 was activated. Florida has 20 ESF annexes, all of which assist in providing interagency support for federal responses to specific types of disasters. ESF-17 is the Division of Animal Industry and is responsible for launching Florida SART to respond to animals and agricultural areas impacted by storms. Over 100 Florida SART volunteers stepped in after Hurricane Ian, working alongside another 86 volunteers from the Florida Veterinary Corps and volunteers from other non-profit organizations. Overall, hundreds of animals were rescued and treated across areas struck by Hurricane Ian, from cats to dogs, and bunnies and to livestock.
SART is without a doubt an integral part of disaster response in Florida, primarily because it can be activated prior to a disaster striking. For Hurricane Ian, the group was able to step in five days prior to the storm hitting to assist any animal that needed rescuing. This flexibility makes their reach a bit broader than that covered by the PETS Act and F.S. §823.151. However, there is still an argument to be made as to whether these groups are enough. After all, many saw huge losses to their agricultural animals and businesses regardless of the current programs and laws in place, begging the question, what else can be done?
Community Assistance and Preparing Your Pets
Where laws may have fallen short, other businesses and non-profits around Florida stepped up as Hurricane Ian approached. The World Equestrian Center in Ocala provided free shelter for over 3,000 horses and their owners for the storm. Other animals that also found shelter at the center included a tortoise, a kangaroo, donkeys, and over 50 miniature horses. The Palm Beach office of American Humane had volunteers jump in flood waters to rescue horses and goats trapped in barns. The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida has taken in over 350 animals since Hurricane Ian, including squirrels, rabbits, racoons, opossums, pelicans, and even a falcon. These groups were just a few of the private organizations and individuals that volunteered to rescue animals after Hurricane Ian.
Many of these private organizations also provide tips and guidelines for households to follow in preparing their inside and outside pets for hurricanes and other natural disasters. For smaller pets, American Humane suggests getting them microchipped, attaching collars, and creating pet emergency kits including food, water, and medications. For larger outdoor animals like horses, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine suggests updating vaccinations, getting health certificates, and Coggins tests, attaching identifying marks to the animals, and evaluating pastures as to whether they are safe to leave larger farm animals outside during the storm.
No matter the natural disaster you may face, be sure to research what procedures and suggestions are best for your specific pet, and plan ahead to find animal-friendly shelters in your area.
Domestic animals depend on us for shelter, food, and protection, especially during times of disaster. Not only are horses and cattle worth saving as sentient beings, but they also play critical roles for Florida’s economy. Furthermore, household pets are considered and treated more like family members with every growing year. These animals are worth protecting, not only for their own sake, but for ours as well.
Animal welfare laws surrounding hurricanes can be established with a larger legislative push. For example, one bill that has been seeking implementation over recent years concerns the tethering of cats and dogs outside during natural disasters, Known as House Bill 1075, and Senate Bill 1508, in the 2022 Legislative Session, the bill sought to prohibit owners from tying up and leaving their pet outside during a storm. While this bill did not impose criminal penalties, it would impose fines that increased with every subsequent offense. While there are some counties in Florida that have similar provisions as ordinances, they do not directly apply during times of severe weather and do not provide pets with the protection they deserve. While the tethering law during storms has not yet passed statewide, it is an example of the ever-growing world of animal law, and underlines there is much more work to be done.
 Sevile Omer, 2022 Hurricane Ian: Facts, FAQS, and How to Help, World Vision (Oct. 13, 2022), https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/2022-hurricane-ian-facts-faqs-and-how-to-help.
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Ian’s Path of Destruction (Oct. 4, 2022), https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/news/hurricane-ians-path-of-destruction#.
 American Veterinary Medical Association, AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook 26 (Oct. 2018).
 Louisiana Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescue Facts, https://www.louisianaspca.org/about-us/hurricane-katrina/animal-rescue-facts/#:~:text=There%20was%20no%.
 Animal Welfare Institute, Katrina Lessons Learned: Animals No Longer Excluded from Storm Evacuations (Winter 2017), https://awionline.org/awi-quarterly/winter-2017/katrinas-lesson-learned-animals-no-longer-excluded-storm-evacuations.
 Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, 102 U.S.C. §1725 (2006).
 Animal Legal Defense Fund, The PETS Act: Companion Animals Affected by Natural Disasters, https://aldf.org/article/the-pets-act-companion-animals-affected-by-natural-disasters/.
 American Veterinary Medical Association, PETS Act (FAQ), https://www.avma.org/pets-act-faq.
 See note 7.
 See note 8.
 FEMA Disaster Assistance Policy, DAP 9523.19, 121 (Oct. 24, 2007), https://www.fema.gov/pdf/government/grant/pa/policy.pdf.
 See note 8.
 See note 7.
 Fla. Stat. §252.3568 (2006).
 Raychel Lean, In Hurricane Ian Aftermath, Animal Lawyers Are Watching How A New Florida Law Will Play Out, ALM (Oct. 17, 2022), https://www.law.com/dailybusinessreview/2022/10/17/in-hurricane-ian-aftermath-animal-lawyers-are-watching-how-a-new-florida-law-will-play-out/.
 Fla. Stat. §823.151 (2018).
 See note 15.
 See note 11.
 Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Florida Horse Industry, https://www.fdacs.gov/Agriculture-Industry/Horses-Equine/Florida-Horse-Industry.
 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Cattle Facts (2021), available at https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Brochures/FL%20Cattle%20Broc%202021b.pdf.
 Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Florida’s Cattle Industry, available at https://www.fdacs.gov/content/download/17161/file/P-00044.pdf.
 Kerry Sheridan, ‘I’ve Never Lost This Many Animals.’ Inside a Dairy Farm Hit by Hurricane Ian, WUSF Public Media (Oct. 5, 2022), available at https://wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu/weather/2022-10-05/never-lost-this-many-animals-inside-dairy-farm-hurricane-ian.
 Lori Rozsa, Three Weeks After Ian, Hard-Hit Floridians Are Still Searching for Lost Pets, The Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2022, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/10/21/hurricane-ian-missing-pets/.
 See note 8.
 Florida SART: State Agricultural Response Team, About Us, https://flsart.org/aboutus/overview.jsp.
 Fla. Stat. §252.3569 (2018).
 Florida State Agricultural Response Team, Florida SART, available at https://flsart.org/pdf/Final%20SART%20Brochure%2004-2019.pdf.
 SART, Special Edition: Hurricane Ian Response, The Sentinel (Nov. 2022), available at https://flsart.org/NewsMedia/sartsentinel/pdf/2022/sent-22-11.pdf.
 Division of Emergency Management, Emergency Support Functions, https://www.floridadisaster.org/sert/esf/.
 Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Animal Industry, https://www.fdacs.gov/Divisions-Offices/Animal-Industry.
 See note 35.
 Sandra McDonald, World Equestrian Center Provides Free Shelter to 3,000 Horses Ahead of Hurricane Ian, University of Florida Television (Sept. 28, 2022), https://www.wuft.org/news/2022/09/28/world-equestrian-center-provides-free-shelter-to-3000-horses-ahead-of-hurricane-ian/.
 Carole Rose, American Humane Rescues Horses, Other Farm Animals Affected by Hurricane Ian, Palm Beach Daily News, Oct. 5, 2022, available at https://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/story/news/2022/10/05/hurricane-ian-american-humane-rescues-horses-other-farm-animals/8170003001/.
 Kimberly Kuizon, Wildlife Center Volunteers Care for Hundreds of Animals Injured During Hurricane Ian, Fox 13 News (Oct. 26, 2022), https://www.fox13news.com/news/wildlife-center-volunteers-care-for-hundreds-of-animals-injured-during-hurricane-ian.
 Lee Cohen, Prepare for Your Pets this Hurricane Season, American Humane (June 2, 2022), https://www.americanhumane.org/blog/prepare-for-your-pets-this-hurricane-season/.
 University of Florida Large Animal Hospital, Hurricane Season Preparation for Florida Horse Farms, https://largeanimal.vethospitals.ufl.edu/hurricane-season-preparation-for-florida-horse-farms/.
 See note 3.
 Fla. Legis., History of Legislation, 2022 Reg. Sess., History of House Bills, H.B. 1075.
 Fla. Legis., History of Legislation, 2022 Reg. Sess., History of Senate Bills, S.B. 1508.
This column is submitted on behalf of the Animal Law Section, Michelle Ballard, chair; Macie J. H. Codina, special editor; and Ralph A. DeMeo, editor.