ORLANDO — On Sept. 17 2017, Hurricane Irma was a category 5 storm as it approached Florida, and still category 4 as it crossed the state, causing considerable damage and widespread power outages. On the day that Irma crossed Central Florida, the heavy winds made it feel like my house was about to get swept off the ground and go sailing into the sky like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz, or at the very least that all my windows would get shattered.
One thing I remember most distinctly about that day is that as the storm intensified, my cat Fluffy got increasingly agitated. I had locked her and our other cat, Midnight, inside the house to keep them safe, but every sound from outside only seemed to make Fluffy that much more anxious about being in there. I had blocked the pet door latch on our back door, but it was obvious that Fluffy didn’t feel safe in that house, and she finally managed to push aside what I’d used to block the latch and got out. I went into a panic.
I ran outside and called and called for her, pleading with her to come back, but no such luck. Since the rain was now getting torrential, I went back inside for what was a miserable night, with increasingly strong winds that knocked out our power.
It was only on the next day, when the storm had finally moved on and it was bright and sunny out again, that I went outdoors to survey the damage to my home. And that’s when Fluffy came running over to greet me, safe and sound.
I have no idea where she spent the night — my guess is under our neighbor’s house, but who knows. For whatever reason, wherever she ended up made her feel safer during the storm than inside our house — and considering how vulnerable and scared I felt during the night, I couldn’t blame her.
How Do You Help Cats During a Major Storm?
Irma was the last major hurricane to hit us, but I started thinking about that experience this morning while reading the news about the latest path of Hurricane Isaias, which went from a tropical storm on Thursday to a category 1 hurricane, with hurricane warnings being issued for the Florida coast. Considering that hurricane season tends to peak in mid-September, Aug. 1 feels far too early in the season for a hurricane.
But I also thought about my cats. Fluffy is still with us, although Midnight has since passed away. But we now have two others now, Daphne and Bitty, and while I don’t know how severe this storm is going to be on the Orlando area, I’ve started thinking about their psychology during a storm. Knowing they despise the fireworks on July 4 and New Year’s Eve, I expect a hurricane barreling through won’t be anything they calmly sit through, either.
So, in addition to doing my best to keep them indoors (I have a thick cement block now to keep the cats from getting through the door latch), I thought about other things that are important for cat owners.
First, I made sure I have at least a week’s worth of cat food so I don’t have to worry about feeding them.
Second, none of them is taking any medicines, so I don’t need to worry about that.
And finally, I think it’s important to keep reaching out to them, talking to them, letting them know I’m there and we’re all going to be okay. That may sound corny, but I truly believe that talking to cats can be very reassuring to them. Speaking in a calming voice can have an impact — believe me, I’ve done this before.
Evacuating With Your Pets
We’re also fortunate that we’re far enough inland that we won’t need to evacuate our home out of concerns about flooding, but for those families that live near the coast and may need to board up their home, it’s important to keep in mind that not all shelters accept pets, so take some time now before the weather gets problematic to research pet-friendly shelters or pet-friendly hotels. There’s a website, Pets Welcome, that lists hotels that accept pets.
I’ve learned the hard way just how scary it gets when a major storm hits your area, and I learned in 2017 from Fluffy that cats get just as anxious and scared as people do during a storm, even if it seems like they’re in a safe place. They’ll sometimes make irrational decisions (like rushing outside right into the storm). That’s why if you love your pets, take some extra steps today to ensure their well-being during a storm . You’ll be glad you did.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.