CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC - Charleston Co. officials are searching for a new storm shelter option for people and their pets.
Charleston Co. has operated a hurricane pet shelter since 1999. County officials said they previously contracted with Charleston County School District to shelter pet owners and cats and dogs at North Charleston and Stall high schools in the wake of a hurricane. County leaders said they were notified Aug. 15 that the high schools were no longer an option.
"What's disconcerting is the timing of it," Charleston Co. Chairman Elliott Summey said. "I understand it's right at the beginning of the school year, but it's the start of hurricane season. Really no one imagined the school district would abandon us like they did."
Summey said CCSD has been part of the county's Pet Shelter Operations Plan for several years. The county has also previously housed an emergency storm shelter for pets at the North Charleston Coliseum.
"It's a potential serious situation whenever we have an evacuation," Charleston Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore said. "And we all know pets are part of the family."
Congress passed a bill in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina, requiring state and local officials factor in pet owners, pets and service animals in evacuation plans. Charleston Animal Society leaders said it's not just for animals' safety but also for owners who may stay behind with their pet.
"I would bet you that most of the folks that live along the barrier islands," Elmore said. "If they knew they could not evacuate with all of their pets, they would stay in harm's way."
Charleston County is now working to find a new option so people can be safely sheltered with pets. But, Summey hopes that the school board re-considers for the current hurricane season.
"I think they should come back to the table, at least during this season," Summey said. If that doesn't happen, we're frantically looking for a place. we need some place high and dry. School district is very important to us in this situation and we need their help."
The district released the following statement:
"We didn't feel it was in the best interests of our students and teachers to attend a school where animals were sheltered; we were concerned about the time it takes to properly clean the facility so it is ready to go for its intended use as a place of learning."
Dorchester Co. emergency management officials said the county is working on an agreement with Dorchester District Two for a pet-friendly storm shelter option. The agreement is forthcoming but would allow owners to be co-located with pets in schools with a dual-ventilation system.