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The Buddy System Movie

How dogs help kids with Autism



David Williams and his autism assistance dog Buddy.

Photo by Dale Williams

NOTE: Due to popular demand, there will be special screening on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 at 7 p.m., at the Ridgefield Library. The event includes a Q&A with the filmmaker Megan Smith-Harris and Autism Assistance dog trainer Patty Dobbs Gross, a pioneer in the field of breeding and training autism assistance dogs.  They will also be joined by assistance dog Cuby. 


What if there were a specially trained dog that could help your child stay safe, develop greater confidence, sleep through the night, become more socially adept, and improve their reading and speech skills? Most parents would jump at the chance to have such an amazing animal in their home. But for some families—those who have a child on the autism spectrum—a special dog such as this, can play a critical role in their child’s development.

Today, one in 68 children is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. There are many effective speech, behavioral, and physical therapies available to help kids with autism, but one of the most powerful—and one most people don’t know about—is how adding an autism-assistance dog to the mix can literally transform a child’s life.

Patty Dobbs Gross of Storrs, first became interested in the positive interaction between dog and child 25 years ago when Canine Companions for Independence gifted a former wheelchair assistance dog named Madison to her family. “I never truly appreciated what a dog could do until my son Dan, was diagnosed with autism,” says Dobbs Gross. 

“I knew that assistance dogs could help people who were visually, physically, or hearing impaired, so when we got Madison and I saw how much she helped Dan emotionally and socially, I thought, ‘Why not train dogs specifically for children on the autism spectrum?’” In 2000 she launched the North Star Foundation, a non-profit organization that places assistance dogs with families across the country and around the world. 

“These dogs really act as social facilitators,” explains Dobbs Gross. “They help mitigate the average person’s fear of differences. The dog provides a conversation starter, which can be the basis for positive social interaction. In addition, many of these kids don’t get invited to play dates or sleepovers, so an assistance dog can fulfill the role of companion and playmate while still acting as a potent therapeutic tool.”

Traditional assistance dog programs place fully trained canines with their human owners when the animal is around two years old. North Star has a different approach. Dobbs Gross raises litters of golden-retriever pups in her home, allowing her to develop insight into each dog’s disposition and potential. After taking into account a family’s lifestyle—laid-back or active? city-dweller or suburban?—along with each child’s personality, Dobbs Gross then weighs the “temperamental fit” between puppy and child, and so begins the matchmaking process. They grow and learn together, allowing the child and dog to truly bond.

The results are remarkable. Children who previously only spoke in whispers or not at all, want so badly to communicate with their dog that they begin to speak. With a trusted companion by their side, children who were plagued by chronic sleep disruption and night terrors are finally able to sleep right through till morning. Kids who habitually had public meltdowns are suddenly able to quell their anxiety, thanks to the calming influence of their canine friend.

Three years ago, Ridgefield’s Jill and Alex Horning  acquired North Star’s Regis, to provide support for their 13-year-old son AJ, who is on the autism spectrum. “When you have a child with autism, it’s not just the child who has autism, it’s the whole family,” says Jill. “Regis has been a source of humor, joy, and comfort. We are all so incredibly thankful for this dog.” 

Gross’s personal journey as “anautism Mom,” along with the story of her pioneering work in the field of breeding and training assistance dogs is featured in The Buddy System, a new documentary by local filmmaker (and Wilton Magazine editor) Megan Smith-Harris. “The message of the film is simple,” she says. “A child who connects with a dog, connects to the world.” 

The non-profit production, funded in large part by contributions from Wilton residents, was made over a three-year period and chronicles the stories of several families and their North Star service dogs.

This spring—timed to dovetail with April’s Autism Awareness Month—The Buddy System will officially roll out at film festivals across the country. The  documentary will also screen locally at the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival in late May. Community screenings and television distribution will unfold later in the year. 

 

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July 2018

Have tea with a former first lady! Join the Norwalk Historical Society on Sunday, July 15, 2018 at 2:00pm for a Summer Tea with Abigail Adams at the Townhouse at Mill Hill Historic Park....

Cost: $40 - $45

Where:
Mill Hill Historic Park - Town House
2 East Wall St.
Handicapped parking on site only. All others follow signs to overflow parking across the street.
Norwalk, CT  05851
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Historical Society
Telephone: 203-846-0525
Contact Name: Samantha Kulish-Fargione
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Keeler Library
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Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
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Cost: free

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Keeler Library
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Red Bee Honey
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The Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts
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Cost: Adults $10; children 12 & under $5.

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Ives Concert Park
43 Lake Ave Ext
Danbury, CT  06811
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Sponsor: Newtown Savings Bank
Telephone: 120-383-79226
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Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
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Cost: Free

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Harbor Point Boardwalk
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Stamford, CT  06902
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Meet-up at Pedego
50 Water St
Norwalk, CT
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Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

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Heather Gaudio Fine Art
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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Cost: $37-$42

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The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
1 Railroad Ave.
Essex, CT  06426
View map »


Website »

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Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
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View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Grab your best friend for a Girl’s Night Out of making your own natural skincare products at Red Bee’s Honey House Barn! We’ll make beeswax lip balms, healing salves and honey...

Cost: $125

Where:
Red Bee Honey
Weston, CT  06883


Sponsor: Red Bee Honey
Contact Name: Emily Sabo, Events Manager
Website »

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
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Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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Cost: Free

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Telephone: 203-762-8958, ext. 316.
Contact Name: Laurie Petrasanta
Website »

More information

Take a 2 ½ hour narrated train and riverboat ride through what the Nature Conservancy calls “one of the last great places on earth,” the Connecticut River Valley. The train...

Cost: $37-$42

Where:
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
1 Railroad Ave.
Essex, CT  06426
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
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Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Grab your best friend for a Girl’s Night Out of making your own natural skincare products at Red Bee’s Honey House Barn! We’ll make beeswax lip balms, healing salves and honey...

Cost: $125

Where:
Red Bee Honey
Weston, CT  06883


Sponsor: Red Bee Honey
Contact Name: Emily Sabo, Events Manager
Website »

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Take a 2 ½ hour narrated train and riverboat ride through what the Nature Conservancy calls “one of the last great places on earth,” the Connecticut River Valley. The train...

Cost: $37-$42

Where:
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
1 Railroad Ave.
Essex, CT  06426
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Back by popular demand! Professional book discussion leader Susan Boyar will discuss 6 short stories published in The New Yorker magazine over 6 consecutive weeks. Each Wednesday's...

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 2 ½ hour narrated train and riverboat ride through what the Nature Conservancy calls “one of the last great places on earth,” the Connecticut River Valley. The train...

Cost: $37-$42

Where:
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
1 Railroad Ave.
Essex, CT  06426
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Make and decorate your own house for fairies! July 12th and 19th at 4:00 PM You are welcome to one or both sessions For kids in grades Kindergarten and up. Younger children need to have...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

All ages are welcome to our 18 th year of the Summer Music & More concert series. As always, the concerts and refreshments are free thanks to the generous sponsorship of The Village Market and...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the Red Bee team and Stems + Co, a boutique flower design studio, for a bee-friendly floral centerpiece workshop at Red Bee’s Honey House Barn in Weston, CT on...

Cost: $100

Where:
Red Bee Honey
Weston, CT  06883


Sponsor: Stems + Co
Website »

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

All ages are welcome to our 18th year of the Summer Music & More concert series. As always, the concerts and refreshments are free thanks to the generous sponsorship of The Village Market and...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 2 ½ hour narrated train and riverboat ride through what the Nature Conservancy calls “one of the last great places on earth,” the Connecticut River Valley. The train...

Cost: $37-$42

Where:
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
1 Railroad Ave.
Essex, CT  06426
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Red Bee Apiary's Talk, Tour & Honey Tastings are an opportunity to visit a working apiary and experience honey at its source. Take a tour of Red Bee's apiary and gardens, once...

Cost: $35

Where:
Red Bee Honey
Weston, CT  06883


Sponsor: Red Bee Honey
Contact Name: Emily Sabo, Events Manager
Website »

More information

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

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Cost: $11 adults; $6 kids

Where:
Grace Farms, Commons
365 Lukes Wood Road
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Grace Farms Foundation
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Levitt Pavilion
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View map »


Website »

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Grace Farms
365 Lukes Wood Road
New Canaan, CT  06897
View map »


Sponsor: Grace Farms Foundation
Telephone: 203-920-1702
Contact Name: Regan Hayes
Website »

More information

Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Take a 2 ½ hour narrated train and riverboat ride through what the Nature Conservancy calls “one of the last great places on earth,” the Connecticut River Valley. The train...

Cost: $37-$42

Where:
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
1 Railroad Ave.
Essex, CT  06426
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Looking for some family-friendly activities this summer? Visiting museums is educational and engaging for even young children, but tickets can often be expensive. Luckily, The Friends of Keeler...

Cost: free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 titicus road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Levitt Pavilion
40 Jesup Road
Westport, CT  06880
View map »


Website »

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

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Cost: Three and Five Class Packages (3 times for $33, 5 times for $42)

Where:
Vary with each class
, CT


Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Burn Baby Burn”, a group exhibition featuring works by Kathleen Kucka, Dennis...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Take a 2 ½ hour narrated train and riverboat ride through what the Nature Conservancy calls “one of the last great places on earth,” the Connecticut River Valley. The train...

Cost: $37-$42

Where:
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
1 Railroad Ave.
Essex, CT  06426
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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