Few things irk an animal lover more than seeing a neighbor leash their dog to a tree in the backyard when a storm threatens.
Apparently, state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, has this distaste, too.
On March 1, Gruters, chairman of Florida’s Republican Party, filed a bill (SB 1738) that would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to leave a dog restrained outside and unattended during a manmade or a natural disaster.
On Monday, Gruters’ SB 1738 sailed through the Senate Agriculture Committee with five favorable votes and no opposition.
This means leaving your dog roped to a tree at your home while you evacuate, as many did during Hurricane Irma in September 2017, would be considered animal cruelty. As a first-degree misdemeanor, punishment could include a year in prison, according to existing Florida statutes, or a fine up to $5,000 — or both.
Gruters’ bill defines “manmade” as a situation in which someone has received “notice from a local or government authority that an event attributed in part or entirely to human intent, error, or negligence, or involving the failure of a manmade system” is either happening or will happen and result in significant damage.
Natural disasters include hurricanes, tropical storms or tornado warnings. These are pending problems that municipalities, counties and the National Weather Service warn residents of in advance. Mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders would count.
Anything that restrains an animal — which could include rope, cable or leash — to a stationary object is defined by the bill.
“As a dangerous storm approaches, many residents flee to safer areas, and some leave their pets behind,” a Senate staff analysis of the bill read.
According to the analysis of SB 1738, the Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control director reported that during Irma many pets were left chained to trees and parked cars, “as their owner left them behind to ‘ride out the storm’ on their own.”
The bill does not mention other animals including cats, but the analysis did mention that cats had to be rescued during Hurricane Irma.
During Irma, 49 dogs and two cats were rescued by animal control officers, according to Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control.
In Palm Beach County, it is illegal for anyone to leave a dog tied up without the owner being present, but it is considered animal cruelty and a felony when done during a storm, according to the bill’s analysis, which also noted that many Florida counties or municipalities prohibit tethering animals in extreme weather situations.
These include Miami and Miami-Dade, Pembroke Park, Fernandina Beach, Collier, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Martin, Pinellas, Sarasota, and St. Lucie.
If the bill clears the Florida Legislature and is signed into law, SB 1738 would go into effect on July 1.