Nobody could say they weren’t a dog person after viewing the UConn Paws and Claws screening of the documentary, “The Buddy System.” The heartwarming film followed three families with a child or children with autism and the assistance dogs that helped the children to manage the disorder.
“The Buddy System” follows three familes (the Desavino family and their dog Nardi, the Janus family and Wally and the Williams family and Buddy) as they receive assistance dogs from North Star Foundation. Life changed for the better as each family began to develop a relationship with their dog. The children became more confident, independent and social once they and their dog began to bond. Additionally, they each found a special friend in their respective dogs and sought out their comfort in times of stress.
Throughout the film, the children’s parents discussed how autism sometimes affected their children’s lives at school and beyond. They stated that sometimes autism made it difficult for their children’s peers to accept or befriend them because they viewed the disorder as a difference. After receiving an assistance dog, however, their children grew in confidence and were able to approach others themselves or even start a conversation around their assistance dog.
North Star Foundation, the organization that raised and placed the dogs featured in the film, is based right in Storrs and is dedicated to training dogs to work with each autistic child’s special needs. The Foundation has placed over 275 dogs with families since 2000.
The founder and executive director, Patty Dobbs Gross, was featured in the documentary and stated how she didn’t truly understand the importance of dogs until her son Dan was diagnosed with autism. Once she received a Golden Retriever and Dan began to bond with him, she realized that dogs could be socialized from puppyhood to help individuals with autism.
Gross and her son were present for a question and answer session after the documentary and reiterated the importance of accepting differences among people.
“North Star is a part of the evolution of us valuing differences,” Gross said.
She stated how the pairing of children with dogs and the positive outcomes she’s seen have advanced society’s acceptance of those with autism.
Student reaction to the event was positive. Kimberly Alvarez, a first-semester animal science major, said that not only did she get to meet assistance puppies in training before the screening, she got to learn about assistance dogs for those with autism.
“It was a really heartfelt documentary and it was really nice to learn about [the assistance dogs],” Alvarez said. “I wasn’t really familiar with a lot of service animals that can work with autism, so it was nice to see and learn about.”
Other students were empowered to get more involved after the film.
“It was pretty inspiring to watch,” Josie Hintz, a first-semester pre-vet animal science major and Paws and Claws member, said of the documentary. “It kind of made me want to do more about autism and dog training too. Both topics are pretty interesting coming together, so I thought it was a good movie.”
Paws and Claws members were excited to host the event and looked forward to further educating the UConn community about service animals at their Pawtoberfest event on Saturday.
“I think we’ve been focusing a lot the past semesters on how we help animals through shelters and rescues and organizations like that,” Allie Muro, a seventh-semester animal science major and Paws and Claws Executive Board Member, said. “But I think this semester we’re trying to gear it more towards how animals are important in our community, so we had this event [about] how the dogs benefit children with autism and our other event is highlighting guide dogs that help the visually impaired.”
Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.