Jaycee Lee Dugard says animals saved her during years of confinement, offers equine therapy to others going through trauma

Jaycee Lee Dugard, a survivor of child abduction and sexual assault, relied on animals to help her overcome the traumatic events in her life. In turn, she’s helping others going through trauma by offering a variety of support programs via her foundation, including equine therapy.

Parade reports that Dugard, who was just 11 years old when she was abducted while walking to a school bus stop in California, created the The JAYC Foundation in order to help other families learn to cope with, face, and deal with traumatic events.

JAYC, which stands for “Just Ask Yourself To Care,” is a foundation that supports people who’ve experienced “familial or non-familial abduction or other trauma.” Part of the program includes equine therapy, among other forms of healing.

“Eight years ago, my friends and family surprised me with a palomino Haflinger I call Cowboy. I have learned so much from him on and off the ground: patience, humor, staying present—attunement to each other,” Dugard told Parade. “He’s a clown and a teacher. I don’t think I would be as healthy as I am today without him in my life.”

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Dugard’s organization also provides help to “overworked” law enforcement officers through the LEO Awareness Development program, as well as a school group program that aims to help young people dealing with issues such as bullying, and how to become more empathetic and self-aware.

Duggard credits animals for helping her survive the trauma she endured for years while being held captive for years at a home in Contra Costa County.

Convicted criminal, Phillip Garrido, kidnapped Duggard in 1991 near Lake Tahoe. His wife, Nancy Garrido, held the little girl down in the backseat of a car as her husband drove away. Duggar’s stepfather, Carl Probyn, witnessed the kidnapping but after giving chase on a bicycle, he couldn’t keep up with Garrido.

Phillip Garrido raped Duggar numerous times. He held her in a small bedroom while handcuffed for most of the early days of her captivity. Nancy Garrido treated Duggar coldly and often expressed jealousy of her.

Phillip Garrido, right, and his wife, Nancy, second from left, are seen with their attorney’s Gilbert Maines, left, and Susan Gellman, during a brief court appearance at the El Dorado Superior Court in Placerville, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. Garrido and her husband, Phllip, are facing charges on the 1991 kidnap and rape of Jaycee Lee Dugard.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Throughout the time she was with her kidnappers, the Garridos would present Dugard with animals, although in at least two instances, small kittens they gave her mysteriously vanished. Dugard said her time with the animals, however, helped her feel love and compassion.

“What I lacked for human companionship in the backyard prison the Garridos created, the cats made up for. From my first kitty, Rusty, to my big Doberman, Sheena, animals have taught me compassion and empathy and always made me feel loved, no matter what.”

The Garridos were eventually captured in 2009. By that time, Duggard had been held by the couple for 18 years and had two children by Phillip Garrido. Both Phillip and Nancy Garrido are serving lengthy prison sentences for their roles in kidnapping, sexual assault, and imprisonment.

Dugard’s logo at JAYCE is a pinecone. She said it was the last thing she touched before “Phillip Garrido threw me in the backseat of his car, where his wife, Nancy, was waiting to hold me down.”

To learn more about Dugard’s profound organization, visit the official JAYC Foundation, Inc. website.

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[Feature Photo: Jaycee Lee Dugard and mother Terry Probyn via AP/Cliff Owen, File]