Running On Faith
A man on Godís plan.

BY ROBERT RIZZUTO AND SARAH WESSON

“When Hurricane Katrina made landfall, 51 year-old Robert Goslin watched torrents of rain pelt his neighborhood. As the minutes passed, the winds grew more violent, topping 100 miles per hour and throwing debris around the streets.

He hadn’t evacuated because he had lived through other hurricanes and thought he knew what to expect. He couldn’t drive away because didn’t own a car, didn’t need one in the city.

He certainly didn’t want to leave behind his three dogs — Noel, Cosmo and Dancer. He loved them like children.

When the storm passed, Goslin’s Treme neighborhood had taken one of the hardest hits. The water was high and the electricity was out; but he expected that.

What he did not expect was to wake up one morning to see the water still rising. He turned on his battery-powered radio hoping for an explanation, but information on a broken levy was sketchy.

“First they found the break and are going to fix it, and then it’s the opposite,”
Goslin said. "My spirits went up and down with news about the levy.”

Biding their time

Goslin took in his neighbor’s pit bull, and he and the four dogs sat alone for days, waiting for good news, which never came.

The temperature was in the nineties and the stagnant water baking in the sun made it unbearably muggy. His food and water supply was dwindling, and he began to contemplate the harsh reality that he might have to abandon his pets.

“Something told me that if I don’t leave soon, my health is failing, I’m not going to make it,” Goslin said.

So five days after the storm, he packed two changes of clothes, a pair of shoes, his checkbook, the bills that were coming due and a daily devotional book into a bag and placed it by the door. The next morning he struggled with, but finally accepted, his decision to leave his three dogs and journey to higher ground.

“I left Cosmo and Noel locked up in the house. Dancer was put outside. My thinking was if anything happened to the ones in the house, at least I would hopefully be able to locate Dancer,” he said.

Away from the water

As Goslin left, he saw one of his neighbors doing the same. The two waded through waist –deep water for four blocks; then his neighbor headed toward the French Quarter and Goslin to the Superdome two miles away.

When he arrived, he stood on a bridge outside the Superdome for a few hours listening to people talk about what was happening inside. He was shocked.

In a sea of miserable people, Goslin waited for his turn to board a bus that took him to the Louis Armstrong International Airport.

“There must have been a plan for me to come to West Virginia, because I got kicked off one aircraft just to be put on one to come here,” Goslin said.

With a thick fog hindering visibility in Charleston, W. Va., the C-130 military aircraft was forced to land in Huntington. From there, Goslin and the other evacuees were bussed to Charleston, then to Camp Dawson in Kingwood, W.Va., where he finally was able to rest.

Instant volunteer

A man of faith, he saw his time at Camp Dawson as part of “God’s plan.” From the beginning of his time at Camp Dawson, Goslin said he was treated like a part of the staff.

He believes God he was sent to the Camp to help with the technology, his area of expertise.

“When they were laying out everything, God looked at it and said ‘You take care of everything else — the internet room, I got somebody for you,’” Goslin said smiling.

That somebody was him. At first, some volunteers didn’t realize he was an evacuee.

In what was known as the “internet café” at Camp Dawson, he spent his free time aiding others who had fled New Orleans establish e-mail addresses and sign up for FEMA relief.

When the Red Cross asked him to oversee the computer operation, he politely declined. He told them that he was willing to continue helping the evacuees, as well as offer organizational suggestions, but he didn’t want to be an administrator. He had his whole life to get back together.

“I explained to the staff how I thought the lab should operate, and on a wing and a prayer, they did it,” Goslin said.

Goslin’s dual role at Camp Dawson helped him keep his mind off his pets and his homelessness.

He had seen the news reports about animals drowning in their homes, but said he tried to be strong by refusing to entertain negative possibilities.


Searching for his family

With computer access, Goslin began the search for his dogs.

He sent e-mails and made phone calls to animal rescue groups that he knew were in the area, but did not hear back from any of them, he said.

Then he got a call from a friend who had gone to his house with an animal rescue group and found Noel hiding in the bathroom.

“She almost bit him while he was getting her out,” Goslin said.

She was taken to a cat hospital in nearby Metairie, La.

Still at Camp Dawson, where he couldn’t have his pets, Goslin kept searching for Cosmo and Dancer.

He found a website with a database of Katrina animals, www.petfinder.com.

“I was looking for a picture or information on Dancer when I came across a picture of Cosmo,” he said. It wasn’t long before he found Dancer through the same website.

Through e-mails, he discovered that Cosmo had been taken to a couple of places in Louisiana and Mississippi, but an oil baron had taken him to an animal shelter in Sonoma County, California.

The group flew Cosmo into Pittsburgh International Airport.

“He was very happy to see me and barked for the first hour of the trip home,” Goslin said.

Dancer had been taken to Cedar Rapids, Ia., where an animal rescuer named Beth fostered him. Beth told him she had tried to drop Dancer off at a shelter, but he refused to get out of the van.

“She took him home, where he bounced out of the van and into the house,” he said. “She even told me that he would be asleep near her while she worked on the computer, and that his favorite toy was a stuffed elephant.”

Beth brought Dancer to Goslin a few days after he and Cosmo were reunited. The day after Cosmo came home, a rescuer in Louisiana delivered Noel.

“Each of them was given a physical and taken care of by very loving people,” Goslin said. “All of this was done at no cost to me.”

Finding his own home

By the time Goslin got his dogs back, he had found a new home for them and himself in Fairmont, W. Va.

Toward the end of his time at Camp Dawson, Goslin met Rev. D. D. Meighen, who took him on a tour of the small town and took him to look at a rental house.

“When I walked into the house during that visit, I felt very comfortable,” Goslin said.

He followed his instincts and rented the house.

The day he moved in, Goslin was surprised to find the house furnished with a living room suite, bed, washer and dryer, soap, toilet paper — you name it — all donated by the Central United Methodist Church, where Rev. Meighen ministers.

Goslin has since joined that church, where he attends services and helps operate the computer lab.

“As it turned out, they made me feel very welcome and it’s a good fit,” Goslin said. “It was just a wonderful feeling to know someone cared that much about helping me recover.”

Goslin says that he and his dogs are enjoying their new home, the open space, and the peace and quiet of the West Virginia countryside.

“Since the hurricane, I’ve been running on faith,” Goslin said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here.”