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Protecting dogs from being tethered outside in a storm is a good start, but not enough | Opinion

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Florida deputies rescued a blind woman, her service dog and her mother from a sinking SUV in Flagler County.
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Florida deputies rescued a blind woman, her service dog and her mother from a sinking SUV in Flagler County.

Oh, for the love of dogs, I sing today the praises of state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota.

Yes, I’m talking about the chairman of the Florida Republican Party whom I took to task last week for pushing through the Senate a bill to ban Florida’s nonexistent sanctuary cities for cheap political currency.

But what do you know?

He may not like undocumented immigrants, but the guy has a soft spot for dogs — and during the last three hurricanes Gruters noticed that too many Florida dog owners evacuated and left their furry friends behind, horror of all horrors, “tethered to different things.”

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A 2002 file photo of a Rottweiler mix puppy that was left abandoned and tethered before it was adopted. Broward Sheriff’s Office Miami Herald File

“We want to give these dogs a fighting chance,” Gruters said at a Senate Agricultural Committee hearing Monday where his SB 1738 animal welfare bill cleared by unanimous vote and without debate.

Seems like Republicans and Democrats are squarely on the same page on this one. Leave it to our furry friends to pull off the political miracle.

If the full Senate and House pass the animal welfare bill and the governor signs it, leaving a restrained dog outside during a hurricane, tornado, tropical storm, or any other “natural or man-made disaster” would become illegal — a first-degree misdemeanor.

You heard that right, people. If the cruel act wasn’t obvious to you before: You will not be able to leave your dog behind unattended and restrained by a rope, leash, chain or whatever ties it to another surface. If you do, you could be fined $5,000 and or sent to jail for as much as a year.

The law would become effective July 1, just in time for The Mean Season.

I applaud Gruters for putting this out there. It’s a good step forward in getting serious about animal cruelty in Florida, but it doesn’t go far enough to protect pets left behind in anticipation of a storm.

“You can still abandon it, that is still terrible,” Gruters told me via Twitter message. “But leaving it to die is worse.”

And, why not extend the tethered law to cats?

“Cats normally don’t get tethered,” said Gruters, who had a French bulldog named Pepe, no longer with us.

But cats, too, should be evacuated with their owners, not left to roam exposed to flying objects and deadly winds that could pick up and smash them against walls.

People, during a hurricane evacuation, make plans to take your dogs and cats with you!

It’s all too common for people to leave behind their pets when a storm threatens Florida. Not all shelters can house animals, too; not all relatives rescuing evacuees want them either. But with greater awareness, generosity might follow.

During Hurricane Irma in 2017, which threatened the entire state at some point, animal shelters reported rescuing dozens of abandoned dogs and cats.

“The Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control director reported that many pets are left chained to trees and parked cars, as their owner left them behind to ‘ride out the storm’ on their own. During Hurricane Irma, 49 dogs and two cats were rescued by animal control officers,” says a staff analysis of the bill.

It was the same story after Hurricane Michael blasted the Panhandle last year. Who can forget the ABC News report from Rob Marciano on the rescue of four cute kitties fallen from a torn roof in Panama City during Michael? Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMx5E64AzOQ

Don’t leave cats out of pet protection bills.

They also deserve a fighting chance.

And, while I’m at it, so do the undocumented immigrants among us, Senator, whose only crime is to flee conditions unimaginable to the average American. They were forced to evacuate Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala — and they came here looking for a good home.

Compassion can be what unites us.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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