Owners welcome pet-friendly storm shelter in Polk

Evacuees welcome the chance to go to a shelter with their pets.

Haines City, FL -- One of the most common reasons people give for not evacuating is that they refuse to leave their pets behind.

But officials say that's not an excuse.

In Polk County, they've set up an evacuation shelter for people and their four-legged family members. 

“Thank goodness. We chose to bring her,” said Shannon Love.

Love and Sadie, her 8-year-old Shih Tzu, now have someplace safe to ride out Hurricane Matthew. The storm shelter at Alta Vista Elementary School in Haines City.

“She's been with us for eight years, so there's no way we could leave her behind,” said Love.

More than two dozen pet owners took full advantage by late Thursday.

They include the Copabiancos from Port St. Lucie and their 3-year-old Dachshund Hannah who tried in vain to find a hotel - but couldn't. 

“Nothing. Nothing. Full up. Tampa is closed,” said Elizabeth Capobianco.

Gov. Rick Scott says he doesn't want anyone's pets to be used as an excuse to not evacuate, telling the story today of a Pasco County woman he met last month after Hurricane Hermine.

“When she finally decided to leave, if there had not been a high-water vehicle close, she was just lucky, she would've perished,” said Scott.

It's because of harrowing stories like that, people say there should be even more pet friendly shelters.

No way, they say, would they leave their four-legged friends behind.

“Never,” said Love, “In fact, they said you can put her in a crate and then put it in your bathtub. In the mobile home. And I said, no I can't.”

“That's our child now,” said Capobianco. “My others are all grown. So no, she's is a little pain in the neck but we'll keep her.”

And don't stay home assuming you have to stick it out because hotels won’t take your pet. A 2014 survey found about 60 percent of them will.

Some may charge an additional fee in your room rate, but that's a lot better, say officials, than the alternative of staying in an evacuation zone.

To see the pet friendly shelters throughout Florida, click here.

More on Hurricane Matthew:

Watch live: Hurricane Matthew web streams

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Shelters open in Bay area

Closures, cancellations due to Matthew

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Live blog: Hurricane Matthew on East Coast

Theme parks close ahead of Matthew

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