By Cristin O’Connell
On April 19, Vision Project joined with the School of Communication and Media Arts (SCMA) and presented a screening of the film, “The Buddy System.”
Megan Smith-Harris directed and produced the film. Her husband, Bill Harris, was the Executive Producer and came to Sacred Heart to present the film at the screening.
“The film has been produced over the last three and a half, going on four, years. We completed it last year in April, during Autism Awareness Month,” said Harris. “We had our premiere screening at AutFest, which is the Autism Society of America Film Festival. We were one of a couple of independent films there; other films they had were mainstream Hollywood films.”
“The Buddy System” follows four families as they experience working with specially trained service dogs.
It shows the emotional side of how children with Autism react to service dogs and experience the incredible changes when the assistance dogs come into their life. The dogs help children with autism develop very important social skills and create greater confidence.
One out of three kids who have Autism also have epilepsy. Service dogs can find help in case a child has a seizure.
Buddy, a golden retriever, is the star of the movie. Patty Hobbs Gross trains dogs to be service dogs for children with Autism and was Buddy’s breeder.
“Buddy was the 250th dog that [Gross] has placed over the last 18 years. She got involved in this program when she first recognized the benefits of dogs with her son—who is on the spectrum—25 years ago,” said Harris. “She went back to school and got her master’s in Education and Psychology and started this really innovative breeding program to raise these dogs and breed them and train them, specifically for children on the spectrum.”
It was explained at the screening that golden retrievers are a good breed for children with Autism because they tend to have a calm temperament and high intelligence.
Coordinator of Multimedia Journalism, Professor Richard Falco, helped planned this event.
“I feel it is important to introduce our students to media professionals who are creating important work and can give our students insights into the world around them and show them the value that documentary material can contribute to the society,” said Falco. “‘The Buddy System’ is a perfect example of this.”
At the end of the screening, audience members were surprised with two female golden retriever puppies, Sydney and Emmy. Audience members were able to meet and play with the puppies, who are Buddy’s cousins.
“I have always been a huge animal lover, but after watching ‘The Buddy System,’ I was amazed to see how much of an impact dogs can have on children with Autism. The bond that forms between the child and a dog helps them to socialize, communicate and ease their anxieties,” said sophomore Erica Condon. “At the end of the film screening, we got to meet two dogs that are in training to be service dogs. They were so cute and definitely brought me a lot of happiness. The film and meeting the dogs had a great impact on me and left me with a positive outlook and attitude.”
“The Buddy System” was the last film that Vision Project and SCMA will be screening for this semester.