Officials in storm-ravaged Palm County, Fla. have vowed to “come down hard” on people who abandoned their pets while they fled Hurricane Irma.
Animal control officers found at least 49 abandoned dogs in the region, and some of them were tied up or fenced in, which puts the animals in peril during a storm as vicious as Irma, which touched down in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane.
Officials in Florida warned owners of the dangers before the storm.
“There is absolutely no excuse for doing that,” Dianne Sauve, director of Palm County Animal Care and Control, told the New York Post.
Sauve, along with state prosecutor Dave Aronberg will be pursuing animal felony charges against the owners of the abandoned pets.
“This is a prime example of animal cruelty,” Aronberg told the Post. “We will find you, and we will prosecute you.”
Sauve said there were two pet-friendly shelters in the county that owners could have gone to where one family member would be able to stay with their animal and the rest would be residing in another shelter next door.
The Animal Care and Control shelters also took in 59 other cats and dogs who were surrendered by their owners as they left for safer ground. When an owner voluntarily surrenders their pet, they won’t be able to get them back when they return, USA Today explains.
One shelter in Florida even took in a pregnant dog, who gave birth to a litter during the storm watch. The first girl was aptly named Irma, according to the Pinellas County Emergency Management Twitter account.
“I feel torn about that at times,” Sauve told USA Today, “but we’re not a boarding facility.”
She also said while it’s not unusual to see pets abandoned, there were more people surrendering their pets this time around.
“These are things that are not unexpected during a situation like this,” she said. “It’s always disappointing. Our goal is to keep pets and people together.”
Going forward, Sauve said you shouldn’t let your dog out directly after the storm because there’s still debris that could be dangerous around.
Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida and the Florida Keys, after wreaking havoc in the Caribbean islands. Irma, at one point the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, has claimed the lives of dozens of people across the Caribbean and the southeastern United States.
WATCH: Hurricane Harvey rescue mission offers new hope for Houston dogs brought to Ontario
*With a file from the Associated Press