NEW ORLEANS – a small boy sobbed hysterically as he was separated from his dog Snowball while departing the wretched Louisiana Superdome.
Snowball was one of thousands of pets split up from their owners after the storm struck Aug. 29, 2005, and the story triggered an outpouring of help to save stranded animals and reunite them with their families.
The heart-wrenching tale also spawned new state and federal laws allowing evacuees to take their pets with them.
"For the first time, there was the realization of the strength of the human-animal bond," said Ana Zorrilla, CEO of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "That sparked incredible changes on state and federal levels requiring that pets be included in all evacuation plans."
Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act in 2006, requiring plans for the evacuation of pets, as well as people.
The act was tested in 2008 during Hurricane Gustav, and it worked.
Crates for pets were placed at evacuation pickup points. Animals and their owners were banded with matching computer codes, and the animals were taken to the same locations as their owners, allowing them to spend time together.
But things didn't go as smoothly three years earlier as the dirty water rose in New Orleans streets. People were rescued, but countless times they had to leave their pets behind as helicopters plucked them from rooftops or boats drove them to safety.
Sandra Henry, 58, floated with her black lab, Tasha, to a rescue point where helicopters were ferrying victims to dry land. Along with an 87-year-old disabled woman and about a dozen relatives, Henry was rescued, but had to leave Tasha.
"I took Tasha home, crying all the way," Henry said. "I left all the food I had out and opened the doors and windows. Leaving her here was so hard, but what else could I do?"
It took almost two years for Henry and Tasha to be reunited. The dog had been adopted and living in Colorado.
"I thought about her every day," Henry said. "When she got home she knew me right away."
It wasn't long before the poignant pictures and stories of abandoned pets had volunteer animal rescuers joining the search for stranded people. Houses were spray-painted with information about bodies found and pets rescued.
The SPCA and 200 other organizations saved more than 8,000 pets after the hurricane. MuttShack, which was formed because of Katrina, rescued more than 3,000. SPCA supporters also donated more than $15 million to assist animal rescue efforts and to rebuild Gulf Coast shelters following Hurricane Katrina.
But some of the pets weren't so lucky.
Glenda Smith left her dogs, Max, a Jack Russell terrier, and Zack, a Chesapeake retriever, at home. Her neighbors were riding out the storm and were to take care of them, she said. Her dogs were rescued, but when she got to the facility where they were being held, only Zack was waiting.
"I can't believe after all this time it's still so painful," Smith said. "I just hope whoever has him loves him as much as I do."
Snowball was also lost.
He was taken from his family as they scrambled through a long line for a bus that would take them away from the heat, stench and misery of the Superdome where thousands of those who couldn't make it out of the city were stranded. As the little boy wept and called his dog's name, his father swept him up in his arms and moved on in the line, unwilling to sacrifice a spot on the bus.
On the web: