Paws For A Cause Brings Therapy Dogs To West Point

Therapy dog and her own do the work of assisting ailing veterans
Paws for a Cause Brings Therapy Dogs to West Point
Source - Richard Satenberg

A loyal dog at your feet – the image casts a serenity that can’t simply be explained by your cannine’s expectation for a consistent source of food and shelter. “Studies show that the human animal bond is so deep,” says Judy Audevard of Heritage Hills, and putting this symbiosis to good use through her Paws for a Cause initiative gives ailing vets at West Point a leg up toward emotional recovery.

Of course, the walls PTSD puts up do not fall no matter how soothing the scene above provides, but the dogs help set up the opening returning vets need to

reemerge. In this, she referred to one particular soldier to exemplify the feeling. Reluctant to stray far from his room and probably to take a more active part in his recovery, she offered tiny “truffles” to his lap. “His whole body language changed,” she says, “and he just started talking.”

The catalyst introduced, her 26 teams of dogs and owners make no effort to assume the role of professional therapist. “We’re not there to probe,” she says, and the knowledge  needed to converse appropriately comes as they train along side with their pet.

Nonetheless, as the animal becomes a full fledged therapy dog, some volunteers fear that they might say the wrong thing. But conversations mostly move along the lines of family, growing up and good memories – especially in regards to pets and dialogue that naturally goes with interacting with a mother or father figure.

Of course, the work is then left to the professionals, and the last she saw recently of the said soldier, the impact was obvious. “His whole demeanor changed and you could just see he’s getting better,” she says.

But as the appreciation from West Point officials amounts to few words - mostly because of confidentiality considerations -  it doesn’t mean the appreciation goes unspoken.  “What do they say,” she asserts, “keep coming back.”

Words aside, her dog Kizzy definitely picks up the sentiment and takes the weekly visits like he knows the drill. “He comes over, greets everybody and then he steps away and just watches,” she says.

If that may sound a little haughty, he’s certainly earned it since his cute Kizzyness just about gave birth to the program. A rescue dog, Kizzy was introduced to Audevard’s mother who had suffered a stroke in 1999. Nestling into the 88 year old’s

lap, she was also presented with the words, “What are you doing mom?”

“I’m petting Kizzy,” recalled Audevard. “That was the first time she spoke in two years.”

Soon after, Audevard saw a flyer on pet therapy and gave a call to find out more. She and Kizzy then went for training and the two were off to places like Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital in W. Haverstraw and St. Vincent’s in Harrison, NY.
Off that, she became involved in programs where kids read to dogs. Not judgmental, dogs listen and this helps children ease the anxieties they face as readers, she says.

Kizzy has gone on the road with this at the Hastings Public Library, the Pearl River Public Library and in the Nanuet School District as part of their After School Enrichment Program.  He and his four leggers also listen at West Point as part of the Exceptional Family Program for the children of deployed soldiers.

The original link to West Point was made through Leslie Milano-Luongo, an occupational therapist from the academy. Pooling the passion, they made the offer to start a program. As it stands now, she would love to get more people from our area involved – especially as they are about to expand to Camp Smith.
And she sees nothing wrong with having the inspiration arise from both a selfless and selfish perspective. “Sharing the love you have for your animal is a wonderful thing to give,” she concludes.

The soldiers likely agree.
If you are interested in finding out how to become part of Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause, please email Judy at: or 914-617- 9395  
Also check out their Facebook and give them a thumbs up!

For more on Kizzy's adventures :

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