Woman provides shelter for storm victims' pet


By Alexis Williams

Vital Signs


GAUTIER — After Hurricane Katrina, many people stepped up to fill roles they wouldn’t normally hold.


For Singing River Hospital Auxilian Frances Gardner that role included becoming caregiver and adopted grandmother to a displaced patient’s displaced dog, Rusty.

When Gardner heard Annie Culota, an evacuee from St. Bernard Parish, La., telling the SRH security guards that she had no other place to keep the dog except in her car with the windows down, Gardner immediately found a solution to the family’s problem. 


“I thought, ‘well I have a fenced in back yard at my house, I could take the dog,’” said Gardner, a member of Dantzler United Methodist Church in Moss Point. So, that’s what she did, and for that she has earned a special place in the family’s heart during what Culota calls the worst time in their life. 


The Culotta family fled their Chalmette home the day before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. “We headed to my mother’s house in Pascagoula, because for 50 years, it had never flooded,” said Culota. 


Culota, her husband, Randy, and daughter, Sabrina, brought along their 5-year-old golden retriever mix, Rusty, and sought safe harbor in Pascagoula. The next morning, however, water poured into the house and the family knew they were in trouble. 


Randy Culota, who has psoriasis on his leg, was badly affected by the floodwaters that entered the house. A week later, he went to Singing River Hospital’s Emergency Department because a cut on his leg had become infected. He was prescribed antibiotics and felt his problems would soon cease. The family and their dog remained in the flooded home in Pascagoula, but as conditions became worse, so did Randy Culota’s leg. A week later, he returned to SRH.


“The hospital allowed my daughter and me to stay with Randy (in his room), and they have basically adopted us,” said Annie Culota, whose home in Chalmette was devastated due to ceiling-high floodwaters as well. “We couldn’t keep Rusty at my mother’s house because it’s basically been condemned, and we couldn’t leave him in the car either. We could have taken him to the animal shelter in Gautier, bit they were sending all animals to Tampa.”


When SRH Security informed Annie Culota that the dog could not live in the parking lot, Gardner offered help.


“I had just lost my house, we thought my husband might lose his leg, and I didn’t want to lose my dog too,” Annie Culota added.  “She (Gardner) was like an angel from heaven.”

After surgery, rounds of wound care and a skin graft, Randy Culotais on the road to recovery.  His leg was saved, but the Culotta’s home in Chalmette did not fare as well. 

Annie Culota hopes she may be able to retrieve a few items of china and glassware, but she’s not sure even that survived. The Culottas said believe they will soon return to Louisiana, but not to their home.  Instead, they have found an apartment in Hammond. 

Gardner wondered if Rusty Culota would want to leave after staying at her house for over two weeks. She hopes, however, that the Culotas will come back to Moss Point to visit, just as they do daily during this hospital stay.


“Rusty has a new grandma,” said daughter Sabrina.  “I think I’ll have to pick him up and carry him back.”


This story appeared in the October 2005 issue of Vital Signs, a newsletter published by Singing River Hospital and is used with permission.

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