When a storm is on its way, many people know the basic preparations to make: secure essential documents, water and non-perishable food. 

But those evacuating face the question of what to do with furry members of the family. It can be a sticky issue, made more difficult by the fact that many hotels do not allow visitors to bring their pets with them. 

And for those relying on emergency storm shelters, which are run by the American Red Cross in South Carolina, don't assume that dogs, cats, birds and the like will be welcome there, either. 

The lack of options leads some people to stay home with their pets instead of evacuating — or abandon the animals entirely.

Ben Williamson, a spokesman for the Red Cross in South Carolina, said that as a rule, shelters don't accept animals, unless they're trained service animals. Shelter workers do not check paperwork to confirm that status, however. 

People in the shelter might be allergic or afraid of animals.

Every June 1, the official start of hurricane season, I cannot help think about my Floyd experience. I know the entire event would have gone smoother had we been prepared. For all who have experienced it, you know how stressful these storm threats are. Being prepared is the best way to reduce this stress.

"When you’re talking about a shelter, there’s a lot of different people in there and you have to make sure you’re accommodating to everybody," he said.

Some counties have "co-located" shelters, where animals and their people can board together: they've been opened in the past in Berkeley, Dorchester, Charleston, Georgetown and Spartanburg counties. But opening such a shelter is a decision for county officials, Williamson said; Red Cross volunteers simply assist the counties in whatever their plan is to handle pets.

Horry County, the largest in the state and one that was ravaged by river flooding last year after Hurricane Florence, does not have co-located shelters, county Emergency Manager Randy Webster said. That's for all the same reasons that the Red Cross generally restricts animals: the human occupants may not be comfortable with animals nearby.

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.


Webster said it's also a challenge to find a way to separate people and animals in some of the facilities used as shelters in Horry County.

Instead, Horry County residents were able to drop off their pets at the county's Animal Care Center during Hurricane Florence. Workers were able to evacuate the stray dogs there to the Greenville area, so there was room to take in other animals, said Kelsey Futeral, the director of the South Carolina chapter of the Humane Society of the United States.

"We try to create an opportunity for people to keep their pets safe," Futeral said. "Obviously, it'd be great if everybody could take their pets with them."

Even if evacuees are headed to a shelter (or hotel) that welcomes animals, emergency management officials said they need to be part of the plan, just like any other part of the family: bring enough food, medicine and any other supplies that might be needed, including a crate. 

"The dogs and cats are looked at as family members as well, and we totally understand that, and that’s why we try to encourage folks to figure out ahead of time what to do," Webster said.

Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.