PASADENA, Calif. -- For years, Crestline, California resident Katherine Gigandet and her trained service dog, Pilot, have volunteered to help others.? Among her many projects is a prison program she developed that allowed inmates to train and socialize dogs so they would be suitable for adoption.? Pilot, her border collie, was the first dog to participate.
A long time California disaster volunteer, Gigandet partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina struck the South.? She traveled to Louisiana so that Pilot could comfort victims and first responders.? For that effort, she received a Volunteer Service Award from President Bush's Council on Service and Civic Participation.
But when the Grass Valley Fire burned near her Crestline home last October, Gigandet found herself in an unfamiliar role: She was the one in need of a helping hand.
Although there were no official calls for evacuation, homes lost, or fire that swept the immediate vicinity, Gigandet has volunteered in enough disasters to know that close is close enough. When the wildfire threatened her area, she gathered Pilot, two other family dogs and all their gear, and drove herself and the dogs to a park at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains to wait it out.
That night, Gigandet set up a temporary kennel next to her car.? She placed Pilot's service equipment, including his balance harness, on top of the cage, never dreaming that someone would even consider stealing it.? When she awoke, Pilot's harness was gone; without this vital equipment, Pilot would be unable to perform his services as her personal balance assistance dog.?
After arriving at the National Orange Show Fairgrounds later that day to await word on the status of her home, Gigandet met Donna Brady, an employment service tech with the Welfare to Work Employment Service of San Bernardino County.? Gigandet related her loss to Brady, who immediately put her in touch with the Access to Readiness Coalition to see if they could help her replace the much-needed equipment. The Coalition is a network of disability organizations and allies that are committed to strengthening California's emergency planning, response, and recovery to meet the needs of people with disabilities and functional limitations.
When Gigandet returned to her home, she found not only an intact house with only debris in her yard, but the harness replacement, as well.? The Coalition had expressed the gear overnight and suddenly the phrase, "what goes around comes around" had personal meaning for Gigandet and Pilot.? By now feeling like one of the lucky ones, Gigandet's appreciation of the support and kindheartedness of both Donna Brady and the Coalition was expressed in her letter to the Coalition, in which she wrote, "Words can't say enough about the acts of compassion shown to me during this time of need.? Your kindness and support was a breath of fresh air."
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.