Schools grapple with pet cleanup


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Floridians love their pets, and they're not about to abandon them in a storm.

But it turns out that when many Floridians have to flee their homes in the face of a major hurricane, like Irma, they often end up in public schools that provide the bulk of storm shelters across the state.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who is also head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said given the experience with recent storms, schools and pets are not always a good mix.

“We all love pets but sometimes a school facility is not the best place to house pets,” Montford said. “We had everything from dogs to birds. We had cases where some of the animals totally disrupted some of the shelters. And some of the shelters were left in a mess.”

The challenge was described vividly by a Cape Coral high-school algebra teacher recounting her experience during Hurricane Irma in a letter to the Fort Myers News-Press last month.

“We had 3,600 people inside our school and 420 animals of all kinds. There are cats, dogs, turtles, birds, monkeys and iguanas currently on our campus, in our hallways and in the classrooms,” she wrote. “Our beautiful campus is going to need a major cleaning by a professional team due to the numerous animal messes throughout the hallways and the classrooms and the human messes.”

Montford said school districts are willing to accommodate the animals, “but there is a cost to cleaning up and a cost in not only dollars but time as well.”

“Some facilities could not open as quickly as they could have simply because they had to clean up after an animal,” he said.

Montford said the state needs to do a better job of preparing for the influx of animals. He said some districts, like Leon County, designated certain schools as “pet friendly,” which worked fairly well.

“School superintendents and schools boards are not going to say leave your dog outside in the storm,” Montford said. “But I think we need to recognize it's not just people coming to the shelters. People are bringing animals, and we need to do something to accommodate those animals.”


Speaking of the storm's aftermath, House and Senate Democrats hope Republican leaders will take their ideas into consideration as bills are crafted about future hurricane preparation and recovery from Hurricane Irma.

“We are hopeful that our policies are given the same level of consideration as legislation presented by our friends across the aisle,” Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, said Tuesday as Democrats rolled out a series of bills in response to Irma.

While individual Senate committees are starting to look at storm issues, the House has created a Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness in advance of the 2018 legislative session, which begins in January.

Measures offered by Democrats, for example, would prevent workers from being fired for following mandatory evacuation orders; require charter schools that receive state construction money to be available as emergency shelters; require generators at emergency care clinics and community health centers; and mandate that tolls be suspended in counties when a state of emergency is declared.

Democrats are also calling for a federal investigation into deaths at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a Broward County nursing home where the air-conditioning system was knocked out by Irma.

“It is events like this that sometimes shake us to our core, raise awareness, and hopefully compel a bipartisan effort to protect the most-frail, most-vulnerable individuals,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D- Fort Lauderdale.


A progressive group has gotten into the act of grading Florida lawmakers, similar to the NRA and business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida.

Progress Florida is sponsoring FloridaReportCard.com to give an overview of how senators and representatives vote on issues such as environmental funding, charter-school expansion and concealed weapons.

And like with many other groups, the Progress Florida scores tend to lean heavily toward one party.

Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando was the only Democrat to get D grade. Three others got Cs.

Stewart's grade fell as she voted this year for the state budget (SB 2500), a measure that asks voters in 2018 to increase the homestead exemption (HJR 7105) and a measure that sought to repeal a law preventing liquor from being sold in grocery stores alongside other retail goods (SB 106).

Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Treasure Island Republican who voted against the liquor-wall measure, was the highest scoring Republican, earning a D, with a score of 60.

“In essence, what this is is a resource for Floridians to be able to go to the website and take a look and see where every single legislator, leadership, their local delegation, their local state representative and senator, where they voted on a myriad of issues that are important to Floridians and see so they can match up the rhetoric with the reality,” Damien Filer, Progress Florida's political director, said in a prepared statement.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Thank you for supporting my legislation to end special interest NFL tax breaks Mr. President!” --- U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz), sponsor of a bill that would strip the NFL of tax breaks if players disrespect the National Anthem, after President Donald Trump tweeted the law needed to be changed.