She had endured the kind of traumatic experience that is almost beyond imagination — being kidnapped as a child and held captive in backyard sheds for 18 years under the hands of a sociopath and pedophile.
But even after years processing and working through the horror of that experience in order to reclaim her life, the now 38-year-old Jaycee Dugard found herself suddenly forced to summon a different kind of mettle when a massive firestorm tore through what she had come to regard as her “protected space” in the village of Glen Ellen last October.
A significant part of Dugard’s recovery work was done on the semi-rural property owned by her therapist Rebecca Bailey, a nationally recognized expert on trauma recovery who incorporates animal therapy into her work. The night of the fire she was in Europe, and Dugard, who continues to work closely with Bailey in partnership with her JAYC (Just Ask Yourself to Care) Foundation, was helping to care for her horses in her absence. That night it fell to Dugard to try to save the animals she so loved and that represented an important part of her own healing.
“It was a big sense of responsibility,” she remembers. “It was terrifying. You just feel powerless.”
That is not a feeling that Dugard succumbs to much anymore. Ever since she and her two daughters were finally found in a backyard in Antioch in 2009 and freed, she has militantly chosen to take control of her own life and her own happiness with a positivism that has drawn her admirers around the world.
But an out of control wildfire bearing down on Bailey’s property in the middle of the night on Oct. 8 presented a new kind of threat that put her hard-won confidence to the test. She had five minutes, she said, to load four horses into trailers and evacuate them to safety in Tomales and two refused to cooperate.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God. How am I going to get through this?’ I called everybody that I knew that would help me and they came and supported me,” she said. “And we got through it together. I was never alone. And that is what community is. You’re never really alone when you build your community around you.”
That kind of courage, faith and resourcefulness is characteristic of Dugard. In the nine years since she and her two daughters were freed from their squalid prison and from the control of Phillip and Nancy Garrido, who kidnapped her while she waited for the school bus in South Lake Tahoe when she was only 11, Dugard has held firm to her early decision to not let adversity define her, poison her or hold her back from diving without hesitation, into life.
A survivor who has shared her story of captivity and discovery in two books — “A Stolen Life” and “My Book of Firsts,”Dugard will talk, about resiliency and recovery as well as the work of her JAYC Foundation on Sept. 26 at Sonoma State University. She will appear with author and motivational speaker, Dr. Tererai Trent as part of the Women in Conversation series sponsored by The Press Democrat.
Sonoma Women in Conversation
When: 4-8:30 p.m. Sept. 26
Where: The Green Music Center, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park.
Highlights: 4-6:30 p.m. is The Experience, an expo with a chance to mingle, dine from food trucks, view demonstrations and learn about women-related businesses. The Conversation, which includes Jaycee Dugard and Dr. Tererai Trent, a writer and advocate for womens empowerment and education, is from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Cost: $10 for The Experience only, $58 for The Experience and The Conversation. Tickets can be purchased at socowomenevents.com