As Hurricane Irma blasted through Palm Beach, dozens of dog owners abandoned their animals in the teeth of the storm — some of them tied up or left in backyard kennels to face the brunt of the storm alone and unable to escape.
Now, those owners who left their animals to almost certain death could be facing felony charges and the possibility of prison time.
Florida prosecutors said this week that they plan to aggressively pursue animal cruelty charges against people who left dogs alone and unprotected as the storm approached, the New York Times reported. Even in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, officials in Palm Beach County had to recover close to 40 dogs, some of them tied up and unable to escape.
The abandonments came despite pleas from officials across the state for owners not to leave their pets behind. The Florida Department of Health took to social media, asking people to keep their dogs with them and not leave them in areas that would likely become flooded.
Other state officials noted that the calls to rescue abandoned animals put first responders into harm’s way and took resources away from other more critical efforts ahead of the storm and just as it hit. Hurricane Irma spared Florida from some of the worst predictions, but still cut a wide path of destruction, larger than any other hurricane in recent memory in the state.
The stories of abandoned dogs in the face of Hurricane Irma generated quite a bit of outrage online, but other outlets focused on the efforts people were taking to protect and save animals from the storm. In Orlando, a Hyatt Regency opened its doors to close to 900 pet evacuees, with many thankful pet owners bringing their four-legged friends.
As the Orlando Sentinel reported, the hotel also slashed its normal $150 fee for guests with animals down to $50.
Those who left dogs behind in Hurricane Irma could be facing some serious consequences. State laws define felony animal cruelty as any person who has custody of an animal and fails to act on danger or knowingly subjects them to danger, resulting in death or unnecessary pain. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]