Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Back from Burlington!

We returned last night and I have to say that, overall, this was a good trip.  We got to see Meg, Kent and Heather, all who live in Burlington on dry ground.  We've learned a bunch.

First, it was reinforced that things don't always go as planned.  FEMA established a processing center at the hospital in Burlington, partnering with the Department of Human Services (for food stamp applications), the Department of Agriculture (for farm losses) and the national flood insurance program.  It was well organized and staffed.  Except that FEMA failed to announce their location in the local news or to other shelters and other organizations.  Not surprisingly.....very few people showed up.  More information included the fact that the counties in Illinois that had been devastated by the floods had not been declared an emergency, so the residents there were not yet eligible for government assistance.  And there's more!  FEMA set up in a city that could be accessed in 15 minutes by driving across the bridge between Illinois and Iowa.....but you can't use that bridge anymore.  To access Burlington from Illinois is now a two hour endeavor.  Lesson 1: FEMA doesn't always do things in a logical fashion.

Lesson 2:  This was a great opportunity to gauge whether teams are ready for the AACR course.  Can you dog travel long distances in a car comfortably?  Will your dog crate quietly if you step out of the room to use the restroom?  Will your dog play well with others?  Teams really need to assess their capability to be fielded after the AACR training prior to taking the training.  Work on your weaknesses so that you are confident that being fielded won't be more stressful.

Lesson 3 (and likely the most important lesson):  Play well with others!  We had great support from Cindy Ehlers at AACR, Heather McAtee, Delta Society and the local community.  As circumstances changed, we were able to modify our plans and continue to work effectively together.  

We did have the opportunity to meet with the National Guard troops that had been deployed to fill sand bags and build levees over the last few weeks.  Tired and sore, we still managed to get some smiles as they played with the dogs.  

We are looking forward to more AACR adventures, N.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Preparing for Burlington, Iowa

From Nicole

We've spent hours making plans with substantial help from Cindy Ehlers of Animal Assisted Crisis Response.  Fortunately, things are coming together well:  the Steisel Family in Burlington is allowing us to stay with them which means we have air conditioning and hot water; the roads are open; we have friends in Burlington that have helped us prepare.

We've seen several online articles which discuss the devastation in the area.  Everything from the overwhelming number of pigs who have drowned to the crops that will not make it to harvest.  People have lost their livelihoods, homes and possessions.

It is a common conversation in our home:  do our visits have a place in the community? Especially in a devastated area.  Do we really make a difference just by being present?  I've discussed this with other teams who have been involved with Delta Society for years who always assure us me that, yes, in fact, our contributions are valuable.  Heddie shared some very poignant emails with me this past week, communication she received after volunteering in Parkersburg.  I know our doubts will be replaced with certainty in a few hours.  They always nag at this point, though, just hours before visits.  

I know that the only way we capture the human-animal bond is in our heart, in places we don't see.  And I think of the time I spend at ChildServe and Orchard Place and how much the children look forward to seeing our Pet Partners.  I suspect that it is our dogs that know the value in what they do.  As handlers, we have the amazing opportunity to watch them work and witness the impact they have on others.   

My hope is that we will find internet access in Burlington so that we can continue to communicate during the next three days, Nicole