From C.E.O. to R.E.A.D.

Judy quits her job, trains therapy dog to help kids learn to read

Author: Anita Manley
Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007

When Judy Audevard’s mother suffered a stroke seven years ago, Judy’s life took a sharp turn in a direction that she never would have dreamed. The 59-year-old Nyack resident was the CEO of a consulting and training company for Fortune 500 companies which required her to travel all over the country, but she didn’t hesitate to to bring her mother to New York from Florida and care for her in her home.

The irony, Judy says, is that just prior to her mother’s stroke, she and her husband, Bob, had been thinking about selling their home. “The kids were out of the house for a couple of years. We had an empty nest so we considered downsizing. Luckily, we didn’t sell.”

Judy and Bob, a retired teacher, brought in 24-hour, live-in help for her mother. This enabled Judy to continue working, and for the next two years she commuted to the company’s New York City office a few days a week and worked from home on the other days. “But when I was at the office I just wanted to be home,” she says.

The strain of this working arrangement eventually took its toll and Judy decided to sell the business. “We feel we can do anything,” she explains. “But it’s a challenge and a realization that we’re not superhuman.”
But life has a way of twisting and turning in unexpected ways and that’s where Kizzy, now the subject of a childrens’ book, comes into the story.

Two years after Judy’s mom came to live with her, she decided it was time to get a dog, both for her mother and for herself. Bob suggested that they adopt a rescued dog. (Judy explains that if a pedigreed dog is not compatible with its family, he can be turned over to a rescue group which fosters the   animal until it can be adopted.) After lots of research and contact with a Bichon rescue group, Judy and Bob adopted a one-and-a-half-year-old male Bishon Frise.

“I was amazed,” says Judy. “That dog slept on my lap the whole way home. When we brought him into the house, he went right to my mother. Because of her stroke, she had been unable to move her right arm but she raised her arm and petted him. He totally changed our lives. Bob immediately decided to name him Kizzy, short for Kismet.”

Kizzy made himself at home, but Judy says Bichons are independent little creatures and Kizzy definitely needed training.

“He had never been socialized,” says Judy. “He needed to know what was expected of him.”

Judy did all the training herself, and found that her small dog had a few big obstacles to overcome. “He loved kids, but had a fear of adults, especially men.”

Four months later, Judy saw an announcement for therapy dog training and enrolled Kizzy. With a lot of work, he became a certified therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International and began visiting patients at Helen Hayes Hospital, as well as a few Rockland libraries.

But Judy wanted something more for Kizzy.

“He related so well to children,” she says. “I started researching on the Internet to see if there was some kind of volunteer work we could do with kids.”

That’s when Judy discovered Intermountain Therapy Animals, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. In a unique program started up by two women in Utah called R.E.A.D. or “Reading Education Assistance Dogs”, children who have reading difficulties are paired up with trained dogs.

The children read to the dogs who patiently listen while they read. When the Utah women brought the program to a local school, it was a success. Soon other local professionals became involved in the program and developed guidelines.

“With a dog, there is no criticism or judgment if a mistake is made,” explains Judy. “As one child said ‘when I read I stutter a little bit, but when I read to the dog, it didn’t make fun of me.’”

Judy approached about five or six school districts about the program before finally finding a match with the Nanuet school district after-school program, which implemented 6-week programs for children in Kindergarten through fourth grade. Judy says it took her about a year from the time Kizzy was certified as a therapy dog to the time he was welcomed into the Nanuet schools.

“The powers that be at many schools are afraid of allowing dogs into schools because of the liability, the allergies ... But the results are phenomenal. It’s a real treat for kids.”

Thanks to Judy’s efforts, there are 13 R.E.A.D. program teams in Rockland County and some in Long Island. Although there are not yet any R.E.A.D. programs in Orange and just one in Sullivan County, the R.E.A.D. teams will be approaching new schools in the near future.

Because of her participation in the R.E.A.D. program, Judy attended a conference in Utah where some of the participants were authors of childrens’ books. One author, Chris Williams, had written a series of books called “One Incredible Dog” featuring unique canines including a therapy dog and a search and rescue dog.

“How about a R.E.A.D. dog?” Judy suggested.

After meeting with the publisher and explaining the program, Williams set to work on the story of Kizzy and his friends who read to him. The book, a beautifully illustrated hard cover publication, is available at Barnes and Noble or at www.oneincredibledog.com.

Of course, Kizzy is now a celebrity. As the star of a book, Kizzy has made the WABC news in New York and was the subject of an article in Ladies Home Journal.

A new book about unique dogs is in the works. Author Jill Feinberg is planning a book about dogs that heal. It will feature cancer sniffing dogs and others including Kizzy.

Judy reflects on the changes in her life and says she doesn’t regret retiring from her high powered and very demanding job.

“Over the years, I controlled my business and I controlled my presentations,” she says. “It was all very choreographed for me. But I couldn’t control what was going on with my mother. It was no decision. This is what I had to do. For that my mother has survived for seven years after a major stroke.”

Judy says her work has given her life new meaning.

“It’s elevated my life,” she says. “It’s giving back. I feel like I have a lot to give.”

She also has a lot to be thankful for, she says. Married 36 years and the mother of a grown son and daughter, she recently became a grandmother. She says that with a new great-grandchild, her mother, who is now 92 years old, has another reason to live.

Anita Manley of Newburgh is a freelance writer and contributor to Hudson Valley Life magazine.

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