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The Buddy System

Connect with a Dog, Connect to the World



David Williams and his autism assistance dog Buddy.

Photo by Dale Williams

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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February 2017

Ridgefield Restaurant Week, February 20-26, 2017 Break up the winter doldrums with a great meal at a great price during Ridgefield Restaurant Week!  From February 20th through 26th,...

Cost: See Special Offers box on DestinationRidgefield.com

Where:
Participating Restaurants
Ridgefield, CT  06877


Sponsor: Ridgefied Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 203-438-5992
Contact Name: Jennifer Zinzi
Website »

More information

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Cost: $15 WAC Members/$20 Non-Members/Free for Students and Semi-Pros

Where:
Westport Arts Center
51 Riverside Avenue
Westport, CT  06880
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Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
Telephone: (203) 222-7070
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Sunday, Feb. 26 WLA/WHS - Scholarly Series - Finding Our Place : Evolving American Identity – Amy Trout, 4 – 5:30 p.m. at Wilton Library.  In the 10th year of the collaboration...

Cost: free

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road, Wilton
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
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Cost: Free

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The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: The Ridgefield Playhouse
Telephone: 203-438-5795
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New Pond Farm Education Center
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Redding, CT  06896
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As We Are! is an exhibit held at the Westport Arts Center from Jan 27 to March 11 that offers personal yet anonymous messages centered around "I am more than___" that allow us to explore...

Cost: Free

Where:
Westport Arts Center
51 riverside ave
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View map »


Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
Telephone: 203.222.7070
Website »

More information

WHAT: "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers," a play by John Logan. Meet Hollywood’s first female super-agent: Sue Mengers. Her clients were the biggest names in show...

Cost: $30-$55

Where:
Music Theatre of Connecticut
509 Westport Ave
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View map »


Website »

More information

  Yes, two weeks of special multi-course menus and dining deals! This Winter over 20 Downtown Stamford restaurants are serving up special lunch & dinner prix fixe menus in several...

Cost: Lunch range from $10.17, $15.17 or $20.17; dinner from $15.17 $25.17 or $35.17

Where:
Stamford
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

As We Are! is an exhibit held at the Westport Arts Center from Jan 27 to March 11 that offers personal yet anonymous messages centered around "I am more than___" that allow us to explore...

Cost: Free

Where:
Westport Arts Center
51 riverside ave
Westport, CT  06880
View map »


Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
Telephone: 203.222.7070
Website »

More information

WHAT: "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers," a play by John Logan. Meet Hollywood’s first female super-agent: Sue Mengers. Her clients were the biggest names in show...

Cost: $30-$55

Where:
Music Theatre of Connecticut
509 Westport Ave
Norwalk, CT  06851
View map »


Website »

More information

  Yes, two weeks of special multi-course menus and dining deals! This Winter over 20 Downtown Stamford restaurants are serving up special lunch & dinner prix fixe menus in several...

Cost: Lunch range from $10.17, $15.17 or $20.17; dinner from $15.17 $25.17 or $35.17

Where:
Stamford
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

As We Are! is an exhibit held at the Westport Arts Center from Jan 27 to March 11 that offers personal yet anonymous messages centered around "I am more than___" that allow us to explore...

Cost: Free

Where:
Westport Arts Center
51 riverside ave
Westport, CT  06880
View map »


Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
Telephone: 203.222.7070
Website »

More information

WHAT: "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers," a play by John Logan. Meet Hollywood’s first female super-agent: Sue Mengers. Her clients were the biggest names in show...

Cost: $30-$55

Where:
Music Theatre of Connecticut
509 Westport Ave
Norwalk, CT  06851
View map »


Website »

More information

  Yes, two weeks of special multi-course menus and dining deals! This Winter over 20 Downtown Stamford restaurants are serving up special lunch & dinner prix fixe menus in several...

Cost: Lunch range from $10.17, $15.17 or $20.17; dinner from $15.17 $25.17 or $35.17

Where:
Stamford
, CT


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

As We Are! is an exhibit held at the Westport Arts Center from Jan 27 to March 11 that offers personal yet anonymous messages centered around "I am more than___" that allow us to explore...

Cost: Free

Where:
Westport Arts Center
51 riverside ave
Westport, CT  06880
View map »


Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
Telephone: 203.222.7070
Website »

More information

CultureTea invites you to our third "Cheese & Teas" tea-tasting event at 6 o'clock pm on Thursday, March 2nd. We will be featuring our organic Cream Earl Grey, Keemun Mao Feng,...

Cost: $12

Where:
Culture Tea
101 Old Ridgefield Rd
Wilton, CT
View map »


Telephone: (203) 563-0594
Website »

More information

WHAT: "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers," a play by John Logan. Meet Hollywood’s first female super-agent: Sue Mengers. Her clients were the biggest names in show...

Cost: $30-$55

Where:
Music Theatre of Connecticut
509 Westport Ave
Norwalk, CT  06851
View map »


Website »

More information

  Yes, two weeks of special multi-course menus and dining deals! This Winter over 20 Downtown Stamford restaurants are serving up special lunch & dinner prix fixe menus in several...

Cost: Lunch range from $10.17, $15.17 or $20.17; dinner from $15.17 $25.17 or $35.17

Where:
Stamford
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Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

As We Are! is an exhibit held at the Westport Arts Center from Jan 27 to March 11 that offers personal yet anonymous messages centered around "I am more than___" that allow us to explore...

Cost: Free

Where:
Westport Arts Center
51 riverside ave
Westport, CT  06880
View map »


Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
Telephone: 203.222.7070
Website »

More information

WHAT: "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers," a play by John Logan. Meet Hollywood’s first female super-agent: Sue Mengers. Her clients were the biggest names in show...

Cost: $30-$55

Where:
Music Theatre of Connecticut
509 Westport Ave
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $5.00

Where:
Norwalk Historical Society Museum
141 East Ave.
Norwalk, CT  06851
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Sponsor: Norwalk Historical Society
Telephone: 203-846-0525
Contact Name: Samantha Kulish
Website »

More information

As We Are! is an exhibit held at the Westport Arts Center from Jan 27 to March 11 that offers personal yet anonymous messages centered around "I am more than___" that allow us to explore...

Cost: Free

Where:
Westport Arts Center
51 riverside ave
Westport, CT  06880
View map »


Sponsor: Westport Arts Center
Telephone: 203.222.7070
Website »

More information

WHAT: "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers," a play by John Logan. Meet Hollywood’s first female super-agent: Sue Mengers. Her clients were the biggest names in show...

Cost: $30-$55

Where:
Music Theatre of Connecticut
509 Westport Ave
Norwalk, CT  06851
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
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Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext. 15
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

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