Leaving your dog outside during bad weather could soon be criminal offense

Florida senator seeks to protect dogs during severe weather advisories or warnings

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Pets are left behind when hurricanes hit, some outside, where they are vulnerable to the worst of the storm.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals alone reported rescuing nearly 600 animals that had been left behind during Hurricane Michael. In a case depicted in a video released by the organization, a dog had been left chained to a fence outside, unable to defend itself.

Similar situations are not uncommon during hurricanes.

“They have no chance to survive,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota.

Gruters is sponsoring new legislation that would make abandoning a dog chained up outside during a natural disaster a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

“It’s when you hike out of town and leave the dog tethered, where they have no chance, and this bill is about giving all dogs a fighting chance,” Gruters said.

Animal rights groups, such as the Humane Society, hope that if passed, the bill would make people think twice before leaving their dogs out in the elements.

“Every family should have a disaster plan, and in that plan, includes your pets. It’s not OK to evacuate and leave your animal outside chained. If it’s not safe for you, it’s not safe for your pet,” said Kate MacFall, with the Humane Society.

Some lawmakers have raised concerns about the bill, calling it overly broad because it isn’t only limited to hurricanes. It also includes tropical storm and tornado warnings.

“Half the time, I don’t know when a tornado warning has been issued or not issued and how would I possibly be able to get home and unchain the dog?” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

Gruters has said he'll work on refining the legislation moving forward, but what changes might be in store are unknown right now.

So far, the bill has cleared one Senate committee, but a companion not been filed in the Florida House.