NEW ORLEANS – Among the thousands of crushing moments from last week's deadly hurricane, one image brought the anguish home to many: a tearful little boy torn from his dog while being shuttled to safety.
It tugged at the heartstrings, prompting an outpouring from around the country of people on the hunt for both the boy and his dog Snowball (search) in hopes of a reunion.
They've been scouring shelters, posting notes on the Internet and making phone calls to track them down. One woman set up a Web site to help people pair up pets with their owners. Another set up a reward to encourage someone to come forward with information on Snowball's or the boy's whereabouts.
"Everyone wants to know about Snowball," said Laura Maloney, executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (search).
The boy was among the thousands sheltered at the Superdome (search) after the hurricane. But when he went to board a bus to be evacuated to Houston, a police officer took the dog away. The boy cried out — "Snowball! Snowball!" — then vomited in distress.
The confrontation was first reported by The Associated Press. Authorities say they don't know where the boy or his family ended up.
It was almost too much for Jean Jones to bear.
The 56-year-old woman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., runs puppymillrescue.com and launched another site, katrinafoundpets.com, to help pair Snowball and other lost pets with their owners. She also started a reward fund — which hit $1,775 as of Monday — hoping money might persuade people to help out.
Billie Sue Bruce, a 65-year-old retired teacher in Jonesville, Va., was the first to donate, giving $500.
"The child has been through so much already," she said. "Then to just add to this emotional state is unforgivable."
Late Monday, there was a ray of hope. The United Animal Nations (search) said Snowball was safe, citing news from the state veterinarian's office. However, the information could not be immediately verified. To complicate matters further, the group called Snowball a terrier mix, while others consider the dog a bichon frise.
If the boy and his dog are indeed safe, they have beaten long odds.
Many of the animals — dogs, cats, ferrets and birds — that police collected at the Superdome were herded into a stairwell until the human evacuation was complete. Of the 50 animals rescued from the Superdome on Sunday, not all of them survived.
In Texas, refugees unable to care for their dogs and cats are handing them over to animal shelters already crowded with animals evacuated before the hurricane.
At the Humane Society of North Texas (search) in Fort Worth on Monday, Antoinette Simmons and Wilson Clark dropped off their 7-year-old shi tzu. Staying in a Fort Worth hotel, the couple is unsure when they will be able to take Princess back home.
More than 600 displaced pets remain in Houston. Hundreds more fill kennels and cages in Dallas and around the state. Shelters try to arrange foster homes for pets, and many families have volunteered.
"I've been doing this type of work for 26 years and I've never seen this type of outpouring," said SPCA of Texas president James Bias, who shuttled 30 cats in his van from Houston to Dallas last week.
In Mississippi, many pets were either left to fend for themselves in the powerful winds or trapped in flooding cages as owners fled. Others survived, only to die after days without food and water.
Seventeen dogs and six cats died at the Humane Society of South Mississippi (search) shelter in Gulfport. About 125 survived, many of them dog-paddling for hours until the mix of mud and sewage receded.
The national Humane Society chapter came in Friday and retrieved the survivors, trucking them to shelters further north, said Julie Parks, the assistant director of the Gulfport facility.
"We had dogs that swam the entire time in 4 feet of water and survived," said Parks. "Even cats were in about 8 to 9 inches of water in the upper cages and they swam and survived, too. Just like everybody else, they're survivors."
Reuniting Snowball and his owner will require work, patience and luck.
Volunteers planned to make visits to shelters in the Houston area looking for the dog's owners. They were considering walking around carrying signs with Snowball's photo.
"I don't know how hopeful I am," Jones said. "They probably don't know anything about this — that there's a reward out there and we're trying to look for them."