How local animal shelters and the Maryland Zoo are preparing for Hurricane Florence

Maryland might dodge the extreme conditions Hurricane Florence is expected to bring to the Carolinas, but it could still rain cats and dogs here if southern shelters overflow with four-legged friends in need of new homes.

Some local shelters are ready to help take in animals left homeless by the storm, which was projected to make landfall on the Carolina coast Saturday morning. And although Maryland is forecast to largely escape the wrath of Florence, the zoo is preparing to keep animals safe should the storm turn north.

The Baltimore Humane Society has been in touch with shelters in states that could be affected by the hurricane and is waiting to find out what needs they might have after the hurricane subsides. North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia were expected to be hit with the brunt of the Category 3 storm.

“We’ve been talking to shelters down there but nothing has been decided at this point,” said Wendy Goldband, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Humane Society.

The Reisterstown shelter has previously taken in pets displaced by natural disasters out of state, Goldband said. Animals sent to shelters in Maryland and elsewhere are usually pets previously in shelters that need to clear their cages to make room for animals directly affected by storms.

“Shelters are actually emptying their cages to make room for the for animals displaced by the storm,” Goldband said. “People think we’re taking animals that have been stranded from the storm. That could be the case but typically it’s not.”

The Harford County Humane Society has not taken animals displaced by storms before, but Erin Long, a spokeswoman for the shelter, said her group could try to accept dogs if needed. The shelter is at capacity with cats and kittens now, but has cage space for dogs.

“As long as we have the space we will do our best to accommodate them,” Long said.

She said she hasn’t heard from shelters in the south who might need help.

The Maryland SPCA, meanwhile, plans to continue focusing on the needs of local pets during the storm.

“For now our focus is to be able to help pets in shelters in our area first if the storm should hit Maryland, and then we can assess our space and make plans to see if we’re able to help in any other capacity, including helping shelters and pets in other states,” said Maryland SPCA spokeswoman Tina Regester.

Although evacuations for residents are less likely here, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is advising Marylanders to factor pets and livestock into their disaster preparedness plans. The agriculture department suggests animal owners plan where they will take their pets in an emergency, and know which shelters allow pets (the Red Cross, for example, does not allow pets at shelters). The department also encourages pet owners to make sure their animals are up to date on vaccinations and wearing identifying tags; bring a three-day supply of food, water, medicine and toys for pets; and have photos on hand in case pets get lost.

For farmers, the department recommends moving livestock to higher ground, stocking up on drinking water for animals ahead of a storm, ensuring animal holding pens are clean and boarding up windows to prevent them from breaking if objects are blown into them.

The SPCA also provides guidelines for disaster preparedness and planning for animals.

Pets and livestock aren’t the only animals being threatened by the hurricane; zoo animals are also at risk.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has protocols for dealing with hurricanes, and will implement those steps as the hurricane nears and the local impacts become clearer.

Jen Kottyan, the avian collection and conservation manager for the zoo, said the ways the zoo is preparing are very similar to how people might brace for a storm at home: filling tubs with water for drinking and cleaning, making sure facilities are equipped with flashlights and batteries, and clearing drains to guard against flooding.

The rainy summer has already caused some flooding at the zoo, so Kottyan said it has already identified problem areas on the grounds and is taking measures to guard against additional flooding from the hurricane, such as blocking animal stall doors with hay bails.

“We know where the water’s going now so we can kind of better prepare those buildings and exhibits,” she said.

During past blizzards and other storms, zoo staff have slept at the facility to ensure animal care continued despite the weather. Kottyan said they will decide whether to keep some employees on site as Florence’s path becomes more clear.

Most of the zoo’s animal enclosures are designed with holding areas to keep them safe in inclement weather, so although animals will be ushered into those spaces, Kottyan expects to move few of them from their usual homes.

If winds pick up beyond 40 or 50 mph, ravens and eagles will me moved to a holding area, and pink-back pellicans and white-breasted cormorants may be moved to the indoor section of the zoo’s Penguin Coast exhibit.

The zoo will continue to monitor the storm hour by hour, Kottyan said.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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