Autism Assistance Dogs & the Buddy System Documentary
Changing Lives One Buddy at a Time. Why This Project Matters…
By Megan Smith-Harris/Producer & Director
“DO PEOPLE REALIZE THE PROFOUND IMPACT AN AUTISM ASSISTANCE DOG CAN HAVE ON THE LIFE OF THEIR CHILD?”
That was the question I asked myself after I saw David Williams, a seven-year-old boy with ASD, suddenly use his full voice to communicate with Buddy, his new service dog. And it happened within the first five minutes of their meeting. Prior to this, David spoke sparingly and mostly in whispers. Now he was making direct eye contact with Buddy, giving him a tour of his room, and reading a story aloud to him! I was flabbergasted. It was witnessing the transformations like this that motivated me to make, THE BUDDY SYSTEM: A DOG MAKES A DIFFERENCE, a non-profit documentary now in the final phase of production.
Yay! 60,000 + Views
The subject of our film seems to have captured people’s attention. Our trailer has already had 60,000 + views and the film isn’t even completed yet. I would love to share the trailer with you too: http://BuddySystemFilm.org
If you like our message and our mission please help us spread the word. Just forward the link to five (or more…) friends and family members and also share on your social media.
The goals of our film are straightforward: We want to promote inclusiveness, understanding, and respect for children (and adults) on the spectrum and to educate the public at large about the benefits of having an autism assistance dog. (P.S. If you’re inspired to make a donation, wonderful! Every dollar helps get us closer to the finish line, and all contributions are fully tax-deductible, and all donors are acknowledged in the end credits of the film and on our web site.)
What exactly can a dog do? For the rest of us, just being around a friendly dog can instantly lower blood pressure, ease anxiety, and significantly lift a bad mood. But for a child on the autism spectrum, a specially trained assistance dog can do so much more. Autism assistance dogs can help level the playing field for children on the spectrum by assisting them in the development of skills that will help them live fulfilling and potentially independent lives. THE BUDDY SYSTEM poignantly demonstrates that a dog really can make a difference.
An Autism Assistance Dog Can…
• FACILITATE Social Engagement
• PREVENT or STOP a Meltdown
• LOWER Blood Pressure/EASE anxiety
• REDIRECT Repetitive/OCD Behaviors
• KEEP a Child Safe from Danger
• IMPROVE Independence
• GIVE a Child Confidence
• BE A BUFFER for Sensory Triggers
• PROVIDE Emotional Support
• ENCOURAGE Pragmatic Speech Skills
• IMPROVE Reading Skills
• ENHANCE Quality of Sleep
• RECOVER a Lost Child Quickly
• BE A FRIEND
Admittedly these dogs can be costly (the range is between $10,000-$25,000 depending on the organization.) This can be discouraging for many parents of children on the spectrum because they are often already close to being financially tapped out. But there are creative ways to finance autism assistance dogs, through grants, community fund-raising efforts, and asking family and friends to donate to your campaign instead of giving birthday or holiday gifts. We want to help too! A portion of all funds we raise for our non-profit production will go towards helping a child in need get a North Star assistance dog.
Tell a Great Story
Making a documentary is hard. Much harder than anyone realizes. It’s not just shooting a series of clips on your iPhone and editing them together on a laptop. To make a truly engaging film you need to gather a committed team, survive production (and post-production!), create a web site, build a social media presence, develop an effective call to action, and raise a pile of money to pay for everything. But most important of all, you need to tell a great story. To do that you need truly engaging subjects.
We met Buddy when he was one of a litter of 11 pups, and we have followed him since his puppyhood at North Star in Storrs, Connecticut. We’ve hung out with him at the New Jersey home of his volunteer puppy raiser, Nancy Goldberg, who, along with her sons Justin and Ryan, have helped to raise nine North Star dogs and are currently raising number ten. We even followed Buddy to the Mary C. Howse Elementary School in Pennsylvania where he spent a few months in Denise Skalski’s first grade class, getting socialized with young children and serving as an unofficial canine ambassador to the entire elementary school.
“Please Ask To Pet Me”
We were also there the day Buddy met his boy, David, for the first time and when he came to live full time with the Williams family. Since Buddy’s arrival last spring, there have already been significant changes in David’s life. In addition to inspiring his boy to speak with his full voice, David now reads to Buddy on a regular basis so reading and verbal skills have improved. His father, Dale Williams, no longer has to sleep on the floor beside his son’s bed to tame David’s nighttime anxiety, because Buddy keeps his boy company throughout the night. David’s social interactions are steadily improving because he takes Buddy on walks and to the local park. Buddy has become a magnet for neighborhood attention thanks to his friendly demeanor and a service vest embroidered with the invitation, “Please Ask to Pet Me.”
“Jack is no longer on medication of any kind.”
We’ve also followed the journey of Jack DeSavino and his North Star Dog, Nardi. We were there the first day when then ten-year-old Jack welcomed ten-month-old Nardi to his new home on a permanent basis. And we were there two years later to document Jack’s progress.
His mother told us, “Jack is no longer on medication of any kind. He is much more outgoing, has developed real friendships, and is progressing well at school. I had no idea what a difference Nardi would make to our family.”
Awareness is building!
Thankfully, awareness of the remarkable services dogs can provide is growing. Recently the Today Show teamed up with Guiding Eyes for the Blind to help train Wrangler “A Puppy with A Purpose,” and raise awareness of service dogs in general. Celebrities like Rodney and Holly Robinson Peete helped to make the trend more mainstream by sharing pictures of their son RJ and his autism assistance dog, a Landseer Newfoundland named Harriet Tubman.
“Would you buy a café latte and a breakfast sandwich for a friend?”
We hope to have the film finished by April in time for Autism Awareness Month 2016 so we can launch an Educational and Community Engagement initiative that will bring this documentary to local movie theaters, community centers, schools, libraries, and living rooms across the country. But to do so, we need your help. Please spread the word within your own communities and if you’re able, consider supporting our work so we can in turn, can help others. Would you buy a latte and a breakfast sandwich for a friend? If so, consider being our friend by contributing the same amount to help move us forward. All contributions are tax-deductible.