In Tornado Alley, shelters face dilemma with people who won't leave their pets behind

The Associated Press

Jerry Starr is pictured with Tobi, his four-year-old shih tzu-yorkie mix dog at a park in Del City, Okla., Thursday, April 17, 2014. Starr was not allowed to take the dog into a shelter during the May 20, 2013 tornado and opted to stay outside the shelter in his car with his dog. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

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When a tornado approached the community of Tuttle last May 31, Suzanne Brown, 48, rushed to shelter at the local city hall, which was equipped to accommodate 1,000 people. She managed to sneak in her cat, but not her Pomeranian, so she remained outside as the storm came through. She was unharmed, but eight people in nearby El Reno were killed.

"My dog is like my child," she said. "I know some people don't understand that."

The National Weather Service recognized the pet predicament in a recent report on last May's tornadoes in Oklahoma. The report recommended that local emergency managers get out the word on how to shelter pets during severe weather, but didn't have any options to suggest.

Emergency officials say that at the very least, pet owners should think ahead about where they'll go. Brown said she's already thinking.

"We understand that when we have to go, they get into a crate," Brown said.

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