Moxie (and her siblings!) on the move

April 11, 2016 

Hello Friends,

We create our North Star partnerships between our carefully bred and raised North Star dogs and the children they serve all over the world. Sometimes our pups are raised in schools, which greatly helps the puppy raising children to develop understanding and empathy for children who must face challenges; we believe there is no better way to learn about tolerance than through the eyes of a pup being raised to help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWgMlpsE8Nw

And here are some other video links to take you back through our sixteen year history of breeding, socializing and partnering North Star dogs carefully with children who face social, emotional or eductional challenges. We fully intend to go at least another sixteen years serving children with special needs, so any support you can lend us by way of volunteering your time or donating to help cover costs of our work would not just be greatly appreciated, but also considered tax deductible, as we are a 501 (c) nonprofit organization (EIN # O6-1589586).   

Angels Aware: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wALG2bFn48I

Home Before Dark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uE9a8VqFN80

Raising Your North Star: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qwh8XpZ7ENs

Northern Lights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DYPcew2tDc

You can learn more about our work on our website at www.northstardogs.com, and once there can choose to donate to support us (or send a check made out to North Star Foundation to my attention at 20 Deerfield Lane, Storrs, CT 06268); either way your efforts will allow us to continue our work helping children who face challenges through the use of animal assisted therapy and assistance/therapy dog placements with well bred, well socialized, and trained North Star dogs in a nonprofit way.

I thank you in advance for your kind and very necessary support! We are trying very hard to keep this service affordable for the many children who could benefit and the more support we enjoy, the more children we can help...  

For more information or to learn how to help create or sponsor a North Star placement, please contact: 

Patty Dobbs Gross
Founder & Executive Director
North Star Foundation
20 Deerfield Lane
Storrs, CT 06268
+1.860.423.0664 (home)
pattydobbsgross@gmail.com

"We help children find their way..."

Our Southern Stars

March 30th, 2016

Hello Friends,

As most of you know,  we create our North Star partnerships between our carefully bred and raised North Star dogs and the children they serve all over the world. Last week we took three golden brothers, just five months old and still in training, to the neighboring states of Georgia and Alabama to meet their children and begin to work together: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLc6tV_FLIs

And here are some other video links to take you back through our sixteen year history of breeding, socializing and partnering North Star dogs carefully with children who face social, emotional or eductional challenges. We fully intend to go at least another sixteen years serving children with special needs, so any support you can lend us by way of volunteering your time or donating to help cover costs of our work would not just be greatly appreciated, but also considered tax deductible, as we are a 501 (c) nonprofit organization (EIN # O6-1589586).   

Angels Aware: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wALG2bFn48I

Home Before Dark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uE9a8VqFN80

Raising Your North Star: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qwh8XpZ7ENs

Northern Lights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DYPcew2tDc

You can learn more about our work on our website at www.northstardogs.com and once there can choose to donate to support us (or send a check made out to North Star Foundation to my attention at 20 Deerfield Lane, Storrs, CT 06268); either way your efforts will allow us to continue our work helping children who face challenges through the use of animal assisted therapy and assistance/therapy dog placements with well bred, well socialized, and trained North Star dogs in a nonprofit way.

I thank you in advance for your kind and necessary support!  

Patty

Dan Gross blog #1 - A Reflection on Lessons Learned

The unemployment rate of people with autism spectrum disorder approaches 90 percent, and the weight of such a number is heavy with dire meaning; especially for me, as I have autism myself. There seems no point in trying to spin it into cheery pseudo-stats, or a falsely-motivational pep talk, the kind most people cast right out of their ears.

I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BA in Communications (and a lot of short videos I made for on-campus clubs and organizations), and then from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA. I guess some could say I have reason to feel special because of that, (the good kind of “special”), considering only 35 percent of kids on the autism spectrum go to college.

Since my graduation over two years ago, I have made Herculean efforts to try to earn a living as a film/video editor around the country, with minimal success. I used to feel akin to a human pinball, constantly bouncing off rails with irrational energy, racking up occasional impressive points out of dumb luck, only to end up in a free fall beyond the flippers every time, in need of someone to launch me back up again (much like my experiences with online dating, but that’s a whole other story). To me, this pinball machine often represents the film/video industry, and I am just one of its wide-eyed players, always in danger of losing the quarters that fuel such madness.

I am highly aware of the “basement baby” stereotype of someone on the autism spectrum, the kind of person who seems perpetually content with never venturing far from of the town they call home, never craving new experiences or hard won achievements, seldom meeting new friends or prospective life partners, or even being aware of the lack of any of the accoutrements of the social universe. I wouldn’t know how many of you can relate to that stereotype, or know someone who does, but I believe all people, whether born on the spectrum or not, live that way at one time or another.

Autistic people are predisposed to this way of thinking and living, and until the age of eighteen I was no exception. I know I could get inspirational now and say it’s this “phase” which helped me learn to love movies, reading, and writing…but truthfully, I still have a deep embarrassment and occasional regret towards the way I often lived as a child, which is arguably why I now crave and even “hoard” the new life lessons I seek. One could say I’m going “against type” to crave the novel, to seek all passionate things untried, and to make energetic attempts to avoid falling into ruts…I’ve arguably been doing that ever since I was convinced by my mom (and several high school teachers) to make my first ever short documentary about my first-ever faraway field trip to Washington D.C., and I haven’t given up filmmaking ever since.

One question worth pondering is this: How can autistic people figure out the lessons they need to learn, that typically developing people simply intuit? I think being “humbled by life” usually does it, as necessity seems to be the mother of invention; going through emotional reckonings that parents, including mine, would do anything to save their children from; my parents are overprotective and so I managed to avoid many such reckonings throughout most of my childhood and college experiences, most of my part-time working experiences accrued through my schooling and family connections, and even through most of my film school experience (except for all things concerning my first major unrequited love affair, but, again, that’s a different story). I believe I successfully avoided these reckonings because I never had much vulnerability or life potential at stake; I simply took comfort in knowing I was learning to believe in myself and develop my own raw talent. (Many people born onto the autism spectrum are gifted visually, and fortunately I’m no exception!)

I’ve since figured out that in the “real world,” most employers simply don’t care how experienced someone is with adversity, competition or failure in getting, or keeping, a job. After all, employers don’t get paid to care about that fact, regardless of when and where they become informed of someone’s autism. Personally, I never made an exclamation mark of my autism with current or prospective employers thus far (even though I have sometimes been encouraged to); I personally find it contradictory to profess industry knowledge and confidence while also trying to explain personal idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities, and possibly overestimating how obvious they are.

This has not stopped me from kicking myself after the majority of the fifteen job interviews I went on this past year, and I often cursed the sometimes-obvious defects with my speech and body language that can be tough to control when the pressure is on (i.e., my unpredictably-spiking volume, hard-to-maintain eye contact, occasional disfluency, etc.)

It is often impossible to figure out how to learn from social mistakes made in such a process, especially if no one can or will state what the supposedly obvious mistakes are; it seems, in the end, that the only factor one can reasonably blame is autism, and the harshness of an impersonal and preoccupied world that too often flinches away from it. The advice my Irish mother often espouses, “if a person can’t accept you for who you are and what you do, for better or for worse, you’re not meant to know that person,” can only be consoling to a point.

I suppose the big question that faces me now, along with most of us on the autism spectrum, is this: In a world that rewards confidence accrued through measurable achievement, how can that confidence and achievement be earned in a steady way, by people with the most vulnerable and misunderstood of differences? I suppose it is the same way a boxer sometimes succeeds, just being “too stupid to fall over,” as a true cynic would say. Not nearly enough schoolteachers for my liking espouse the hard-earned absurdist wisdom of constantly putting one’s nose out there wherever it can even potentially fit, and disregarding the very real possibility of it being cut at any time, just like with Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown”. Whereas most traditionally-sane people would do anything to avoid their hypothetical noses being cut, people who face long odds in difficult niches can only afford to take breaks from this type of risk. To me, that is the sad truth of today, especially for people on the autism spectrum, and it’s been true for most subsets of the world on their way towards greater acceptance.

It’s all about figuring out how best to motivate oneself (a motivation that cannot be forced) to put oneself out there like that even once, let alone over and over again for many years…and in what kind of avenues, both online and interpersonal, to do it within. It’s also about finding people in the same targeted field, who have considerably more experience and expertise, to provide support and mentorship while traveling up the many learning curves. Fortunately, this is easier for people with autism than it has ever been in today’s technologically visual-driven society; I myself have learned how best to communicate with people that speaks to my autistic soul, and I have almost 4,000 FB friends to show for it.

As for the other desserts of the financially-independent, socially-rich existence everyone seems to want, and I now very much crave, I just have to busy myself with equal parts entertainment and challenge, while keeping an eye on its hopeful arrival. After all, for better and for worse, it’s the best most of us can live for.

Dan Gross blog #2 - CSU San Bernadino speech transcript

Autism, to me, is a series of intrinsic differences in both observing the world, and reasoning about the world. They are differences that lead to more misunderstandings than most other differences, which often lead to a lot more judgment, too. I know this, because I have autism myself…I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BA in Communications, and then from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA. I suppose some could say I have reason to feel special because of that, the good kind of “special”, considering only 35 percent of kids on the autism spectrum go to college. People like me are arguably born into a frightening and complex world, with the unenviable burden of having to not just tolerate that world, but thrive in it, and share themselves with others along the way. It is my greatest hope that the autistic population of this world eventually realizes their ability to positively impact others, more than most people can do, even if it isn’t always easy or rewarding.

I am highly aware of the “basement baby” stereotype of someone with autism, the kind of person who never ventures far from of the town they first call home, never craves new experiences or hard-won achievements, and never meets new friends or prospective life partners. I wouldn’t know how many of you can relate to that stereotype, or know someone who does, but I believe all people, whether born on the spectrum or not, live that way at one time or another. Autistic people are predisposed to this way of thinking and living, and until the age of eighteen I was no exception. I barely spoke to anyone for the longest time, and the things I DID say were often taken straight from movies I was enamored with…little wonder I became a filmmaker! I know I could say it’s this “phase” which helped me learn to love movies, reading, and writing…but truthfully, I still have a deep embarrassment towards the way I used to live, which is why I now crave the new life lessons I seek.

I think the talents that autism helps bring me are heightened perceptual skills, the ability to appreciate interesting visuals and objects, along with sounds and music that stimulate my brain in all kinds of areas. I also like to believe I’m good at shaping all that into quality filmmaking, that allows people to observe things in a film or video the way I think I observe things in life, in a way that naturally elicits emotions instead of beating people over the head with them. I’ve also had to transfer a LOT of those skills into the workings of real life as well, such as the worlds of friendship and dating and networking, and that has been a whole other learning curve in itself. It was a learning curve many years in the making, with a shaky frame of reference as to how people are supposed to feel and behave around me. It was often difficult to learn from social mistakes made in this process, especially if hardly anyone could tell me what the supposedly-obvious mistakes were, and that brings up a very poignant question: How *can* autistic people master the interpersonal lessons they need to learn that other people preternaturally grasp…things like facial expressions, tones of voice, and body language?

I think being “humbled by life” is what does it, in the form of emotional reckonings that most parents, including mine, would do anything to save their kids from. I personally avoided many of these reckonings for a long time, because I never had much vulnerability or life potential at stake until I graduated film school…I simply took comfort in believing in myself and developing my own raw creative talent. But I was never once immune to being terrified of what others think of me, and in some ways I still am, because I will always and forever be ill-equipped to read minds. For me, it’s all about figuring out how best to motivate oneself to venture out into the world even once, let alone over and over again for many years. Fortunately, I believe this is easier for people with autism than it has ever been in today’s diverse technologically visual-driven society…I myself have learned how best to communicate with others that speaks to my autistic soul, and I have over 4,100 Facebook friends to show for it.

However, I’m more than aware that the world of Facebook is not the real world, no matter how much one aides the other…and for all of you persevering, hard-working parents and teachers of young children with autism in today’s real world, in all its beauty and brutality, I have some advice to humbly offer. In my opinion, you lose a LOT in viewing autistic children as ticking time bombs who could have tantrums at any moment, or who could embarrass you at the drop of a hat by saying or doing something inappropriate…that’s ultimately very self-absorbed thinking in a way that you actually *can* control, unlike the autistic child in question who is slowly learning how to. Autism is not homosexuality or feminism, it does not best thrive in the public universe by trying to treat that child as if he or she is no different from anyone else.

That’s the misconception that leads SO many teachers and parents to get ungodly frustrated as to how hard it is to teach something to an autistic child…it’s certainly a very human reaction to be frustrated in that sense, to wonder if you’re doing anything wrong, if you’re just a bad teacher or bad parent, or if your child is instantly guaranteed to be a vagabond or basement baby for life because of how tough it can be to learn things. But one thing that can ease that frustration is to know that once an autistic child DOES learn something, and fully realizes why it’s important to know, that autistic child is highly unlikely to ever forget what he or she has learned. “Normal" people temporarily learn and forget things ALL the time, regardless of their ultimate importance, because they’re often comfortable with committing something to memory without knowing why it’s important…autistic people often need to know why more than most people, they NEED to have their curiosities about people and life in general satisfied, so they can more fully educate themselves in ways they know they need to be educated. Of course, having a significant push in the right direction education-wise at the most crucial of ages is the most key ingredient of all.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that if it weren’t for all the special education, physical therapy, auditory therapy, speech therapy, and exercise training I received from my parents, and if it weren’t for the hundreds of VHS tapes they went broke buying for me as a kid, and if it weren’t for one of the first service dog placements in the world they made with me when I was 9 years old, I probably wouldn’t be here giving this speech right now, speaking about all my experiences with confidence, and I thank you all very much for your undivided attention and support.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gbV8s4tEcQ  (9:25)

Dan Gross blog #3 - Reflections For a New Year

In my view of how most autistic people feel at the beginning of a new year (especially in THIS day and age), I can only presume that a good deal of self-reflection is typical…just as it is with most non-autistic adults. However, I’m not sure what it is about self-reflection that, to me, usually implies that it is of the negative, self-flagellating kind. That is an apt description of the self-reflection I had around this time last year, as my 28th year was upon me. I can’t imagine a more fair or valid way to negatively reflect on oneself than to bemoan all the self-perceived ways that circumstantial change, personal growth, and career/life/romance progress have NOT come about, especially in the span of one year. Perhaps this is more of a young person’s curse, or an old soul’s charm, or a middle-age burden, or a self-critical excess of ambition; that debatable notion is something no one can really answer, besides for themselves and their families.

Speaking of family, that’s one thing I feel especially proud of this year, that I stayed as close and true to my family as ever, amidst all the busyness, acquisitions and ambitions we all embarked upon in our careers and social lives…which left us with a little extra money and contentment, and we largely earned it all for ourselves. I, personally, was busy with editing several cooking webisodes, indie features, music videos, short trailers, and promotional videos (16 of which were for my mother’s service dog nonprofit, the North Star Foundation). I also took part in an interview for a documentary and had a public speaking engagement at California State University, San Bernardino. Additionally, I attended four new film festivals, I had probably between 15-20 networking meetings with new mentors and old colleagues (across 14 different cities and towns, according to my Facebook), and, in consideration of my speech impediment, I purchased a “SpeechEasy” inner-ear fluency device to make all of the mostly-new-to-me politics behind everything aforementioned vastly easier for me. (The purchase of my first car this year also eased some things as well!)

However, what I may have zealously summated does not tell you is how much struggling I had to do, across many months before (and during) 2015, to achieve all of this. For example, I was basically fired/laid off from a few editing jobs this year, I missed out on about 6 near-opportunities for other jobs, and I was dumped by about as many women throughout my online dating pursuits. Not to mention that the vast majority of the previously-described projects I helped make have not yet seen the public light of day. I could write a whole other blog entry about the kinds of social and political lessons I’ve encountered (that I never saw coming in 2014), but I think the deepest lesson I’ve learned is just how much effort it takes to generate even one promising social/professional prospect out of thin air…let alone enough of them to not be overly-bothered or tormented when some inevitably fall through, sometimes permanently, with very little warning.

As one keeps on “playing the game of life” and getting better at it, it can easily become possible to generate one’s own list of “warning signs” with prospective mentors, friends, love interests, and opportunities…little things to look for that can save much heartache later. Even when not in the position to turn down a badly-needed source of income or companionship (as I hardly ever am), I find this makes it more easily possible to guard oneself against many kinds of emotional backlash that could await. However, I do often find it difficult to prepare myself for the many instances in life that require this decision: Do I suffer and struggle through a problem WITH this person, or do I discard this person because he or she is the root of the entire problem?

This seems to be a question that all of humanity struggles with, and I have been subject to an irrational discarding too often this past year. My periodic bristling against this discardure has caused me to mourn a certain loss of innocence that I know I’ll never get back, that maybe some part of me doesn’t actually want back, but I console myself with the many occasions I was not discarded in moments of mutual duress, which no two people are ever immune to.

It’s amazing how the passage of time can either heal a rift between people, or make it clear why that rift remains; I’ve certainly found a balance between both of these as 2016 is upon us, and I hope to live more quietly on an emotional level. It’s the one and only New Year’s resolution I have this year…that, and letting adventures find me more often. ;)

Accepting our Differences at Holiday's Table

by Patty Dobbs Gross

Accepting a child with a developmental difference into your heart can be an easy thing to do, as most children with special needs are quite lovable, but tensions can arise when your child is invited to someone else’s expanded dining room table over the holidays. This is a good time of year to begin preparations to give ourselves the gift of peace through gentle educating of extended family and friends, who are usually trying their level best with your child, who is likely trying his or her best as well to navigate the sometimes choppy and roiling social waters of the holiday season.


Creating proper environments in advance is a good place to start. Appropriate is a word that should come to mind when thinking of classroom environments for children with developmental differences, but at family gatherings we don’t tend to think about this ongoing need; to me, this is analogous to taking a holiday break from giving your child the insulin that his diabetic condition requires. Developmental differences don’t take holiday breaks, and all environments your child spends time within should first be considered as to their appropriate nature by way of sensory integration as well as social concerns.


The comfort levels of others are also important to consider on holidays, and this is what makes them so tricky. A deft preventive touch here may be in order, and if Grandma likes routine as much as your child, this doesn't have to be a problem as much as an opportunity to work on the fine art of compromise. They might come to appreciate their shared love of routine and order, and this meta-type thinking is excellent for helping your child take other perspectives at a holiday celebration. You may be selling your child short by way of appreciating their ability to change with patient reasoning, and giving them this chance to learn and to grow with this experience would be a true gift.


And so sometimes Grandma should get her way and other times your child; this just seems fair, but if Grandpa is convinced that more discipline is the obvious answer to the difficulties of the day, someone really ought to set him straight, preferably before the turkey comes out of the oven. Remind him gently that we cannot fix our loved one's problems by force, or even by forceful words, and this goes double once removed. Make him gently aware that it’s usually a mistake to even try, especially with a glass of liquid courage and gallon of pent up frustrations.
This is exactly what happened to us around the time of Dan’s diagnosis at my in-law’s home, who both thought I was parenting him wrong. I wasn’t strict enough to their view, and I didn’t physically correct a child they saw as overly willful; they were right about the willful but wrong about the reason for this as well as my mothering. One Christmas Day we had a fight about this disagreement, with my mother in law’s words, “You’re going to be getting calls from the principal!” ringing in my ears rather than the more traditional sleigh bells when we beat an indignant retreat. (It didn’t end up true about the principal calling me part, but I did end up calling him plenty one cold winter when we disagreed on who was telling the truth, the three fourth grade boys accused of picking on Danny, or the word of a kindergartner who spoke only in echolalic verse about the experience.)


Misunderstandings between loved ones can arise based on vantage point alone, and time as well as education is often needed to bridge the divide. The next season we tried the holiday gathering thing once again, after a year of careful conversations with the my husband’s folks and an extra year of early intervention under our belt, and there were never any more fireworks at Christmas (although it would take two solid decades of time before Dan ended up the most frequent and well behaved visitor from our family to visit my in-laws home in their later years, and certainly the most prolific writer to them.) We lost my mother-in-law several years ago after a long and painful battle with cancer, and so I am grateful I had no desire to hold grudges during those early years.
The holidays belong to us all, and we all want to put our own stamp on the day; this may mean that Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill might have some trouble with your child’s interrupting their planned grace. Autism and related developmental differences cannot be fully understood outside of a social context, and so these moments can be sharp sticking points to a day that might run more smoothly with increased awareness passed around as frequently as the stuffing. A communal moment of silence or short prayer before the meal may be considered a cultural gesture to some, an important religious event to others, or simply a time to practice being very quiet for a few moments for the small fry. Impulse control comes to play here, and although you know it is the lack of it we see on display if the prayer is rudely interrupted, others may see your child’s behavior in a harsher light that may cause sharp words aimed toward your child and rude whispers in the kitchen directed at you.


Holiday gatherings at your grandparent’s dining room table in the 50s were a decidedly different event than the gathering at your sister’s condo in 2015, but behavior codes are still in effect, and if your child has trouble decoding them you are likely to have trouble escaping blame. False blame is likely a familiar feeling to a parent of a child with ASD, but to be blamed by family on a day we all want to be understood is a different story than to be insulted by a sliver of your world such as your hairdresser or down the street neighbor. This fear of intimate judgment can cause you to come down too hard on your child in a mistaken attempt to control them, or too hard on the loved one with a hurtful opinion.


It‘s best to remember that some rules are very hard for a child with a developmental difference to follow. I remember a holiday season when the only places we could travel were to homes where Danny could take over their screens and electronics. This, as you may imagine, put great stress on the holidays by way of push coming to shove energy, with factions of the family in the “hand slapping” camp and others in the “let’s just have some pie and skate across this frozen surface” crowd. You want to avoid people taking easy sides on this, or even taking any side at all save the one of understanding for all concerned.


We stopped visiting any but the most tolerant of homes when Danny was small, but it took a while until he could be comfortable participating in a holiday celebration without the help of a working VCR, and in the meantime we worked on him to understand the concepts of ownership and etiquette enough to be able to leave other people’s electronics alone. Progress here was measured in inches, as there was really so little to fight and so much to learn, accept and explain to others as time passed.


And if your child creates a real mess when everyone is together, whether a social, emotional or physical one, I know it will be you who cleans it up, apologizes, and ultimately pays for it, but I also know it's a small price to pay for the lessons everyone is learning along the way, for although your own spiritual growth usually goes unmeasured after a tough day negotiating peacefully for your child’s rightful place at your family’s table as well as society’s larger banquet, trust me when I tell you that you are developing extraordinary gifts that will reveal themselves as the years pass by virtue of raising a child with a difference.


You are becoming not just tolerant of your own child, but also of your extended family’s challenges for the learning curves they have yet to negotiate, and are learning to forgive them for the ways they may stumble on their way up. This way of thinking is the opposite of being mindblind, a condition that we tend to associate with autism, but one I think we all need to consciously avoid whether we are on the spectrum or not.


Developing mind sight in children is a way to move them forward in a self-reflective and nonjudgmental way, to best develop social and emotional skills as well as resilience. We should let everyone have a front row understanding of the patient negotiations and quiet compromises as they pave the way for peace for the holiday gathering and then communicate this work to even the smallest of cousins, as to do this is to share a measure of the spiritual growth the adults will also take home with the day, along with some wrapped up leftovers and colorful pictures on your cellphone.


It is good to learn early and often that most of us need love most when we're at our most unlovable, and that knowing how it feels to walk in another’s shoes is a good thing, especially when walking the path of a child with a developmental difference. You are not just keeping them good company on their sometimes lonely journey, but also moving together toward a magnificent view.


It was at this point in my writing this piece when I heard on the news about the horrific shooting in San Bernardino at a holiday party, and so like Newtown’s sad December, this season ends up being about unimaginable loss. I have no words to express my sorrow to the people of San Bernardino, who welcomed Dan and I so warmly into both your university as well as your hearts when we gave our first presentation together in your auditorium a decade ago as well as just last month.


I will leave you with my hope that the unconditional love that you foster this troubled holiday season, along with your family's conscious compromises and growing tolerance for each other, will end up making a difference in the world. Our striving for a deeper understanding of each other should begin with the children at all our tables, for they will be the ones to lead us to a more peaceful future...

North Star Shadow with his brother Scout with Jonathan and his parents

North Star Shadow with his brother Scout with Jonathan and his parents

Public Access, North Star Dogs, and the Fighting Irish


by Patty Dobbs Gross


I was on my way home from a visit with my Mom in NH, blissfully alone in my car and rocking out to tunes from the 80s that I missed the first time around (busy as I was "early intervening"), while my friend Krista Davidson Dooley was on her way to a week of her Mom's timeshare in Waterville Valley, NH, a six hour round trip drive to an Inn she has been going since she was the tender age of five.


I received two calls in a row from Krista on my journey home and so pulled off the highway to take her call. Krista and her husband. Lee, along with their four children and NS dog Maverix, were all at their timeshare, but not able to check in, as the people at the front desk were denying Maverix the public access we worked so hard to earn together. My blood began to boil despite the plunging temperature of the day, for by the time Krista called me this business establishment had already broken two federal laws, one by denying Maverix access to be with his boy Mason, and the other to have inquired what need the service dog was filling.


I actually have a large degree of empathy for businesses who don't yet understand the law here, as we have the benefit of our sixteen years and counting in the business; even if I know the law like the back of my hand, still, this is a relatively new field to John Q. Public and not used to different breeds (such as using a hypoallergenic Samoyed named Maverix) for different reasons other than blindness (such as for a boy with autism named Mason) is a new concept to some, and so I asked Gail politely to let them in, as she might not want to be breaking federal law.


Richard was the next person I called in the deserted parking lot off Rt. 190 as the sun was setting and cars were piling up on the Mass Pike, all trying to get home before dark. He was apparently the power that be, at least according to Gail, serving as a President of something or other. I called and politely explained to him that he was breaking federal law by not allowing Maverix access with his child and his parents, and then reminded him that there was a child with autism along with three siblings who were in their waiting room, along with a dog in a cold car, sitting next to a Mom who was growing increasingly and understandably upset. Time was of the essence here for him to travel up this learning curve, this was clear, but instead of moving a muscle Richard first called Maverix a "yippy yappy," and then he called me this, which was when I finally understood that he was just not a man to embrace reason, at least not in his current state of mind.


And so, I had to call the police.


I hated to do this, by the way, as there are so many other things for our men and women in blue could be doing with their time, but I am very grateful to the Waterville Valley Police Department for having the wisdom to show up and enforce the law and allow this family access to the shelter of their rented room at the Inn...


I know it's not the holidays anymore, so we can no longer depend on the kindness of the season, and I understand there are no babies being denied any mangers here, but I also know that there is a lovely family who finally gained access to what the law says they deserve, and so I guess it's a happy new year...


It is 2016, my friends, and I don't want to scare you but I’m getting a touch political of late...some my age may opt for making a downpayment on a rocking chair, but I'm searching for my sea legs to travel forward into a land where people with autism not just have their civil rights, but are actually able to consistently enjoy them without being forced to take such cold detours.
I'll leave you with the pictures of what Mason and Maverix looked like when they finally got all toasty inside...

Explaining the Inexplicable to Your Children

by Patty Dobbs Gross

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Eventually all parents will be in the position of having to explain something to their children that defies the simple explanation. It happened to me on a particularly lovely September morning, one with hardly a cloud in the sky or a thought past dusting the shelves of the little gift shop where I worked part time for the college fund. Danny was freshman that year, his older sister Jen a junior, and both at E. O. Smith high school right across the street from the little gift shop by design. If the worst happened, I wanted to be close to where they were, and it may sound odd to you that I took such precautions before the towers even fell, but when you have a child with autism you tend to think deeply and carefully.


September 11th ended up a terrible day to be alone in the shop, with no one but paying customers to keep me company in my despair when the second tower unbelievably crumbled. A car came down Main Street then, going very slowly; it crawled past the high school and the little gift shop where I stood behind a cash register, trying to understand. There was a loudspeaker on top of the car that shouted a fuzzy message at me, and I don’t remember a single word of it. I only remember thinking that this must be what Danny felt much of his days on the autism spectrum, to be struggling to understand what’s going on around you and have the words blaring at you remain entirely unprocessed. It was just confusion and raw emotion for me on a day that still doesn’t make much sense, even after all this time.


I later learned that Jen got a pass from her teacher that morning, found out where Danny’s class was and went to check on him; she told me she peeked in through the rectangle on the classroom door to be sure he was alright, and said he seemed to be looking up. I later asked him why and learned that some classmates thought it would be funny to make him believe bombs may well be raining down on their classroom ceiling next, right on top of their own heads, and any moment now.


I don’t blame them as much as you might think for telling Danny this, as I believe it was what they themselves were most afraid of; we are all connected in ways we’re just beginning to understand, and this is especially true when faced with having to explain the inexplicable. Anything terrible you are trying to talk to your child about likely has a community of other people involved, as the big events of our lives usually involve more than our personal circle. In our case, the bullies as well as Dan’s sweet sister and a few kind hearted teachers and friends reached him even before me on this terrible day, and they all laid the groundwork for his understanding of terrorism for my son that I would later build upon.


My own sanitized explanation of what had happened went down a bit too easy with the brownie fudge sundae at Friendlies, and I found it difficult to convey the tone of what I wanted him to absorb. I struggled with this until one morning shortly after we began bombing Iraq, when the front page of the Hartford Courant posted a picture of an Iraqi baby killed during the “shock and awe” campaign. You could see the baby’s individual eyelashes in the black and white picture as she was gently cradled in her father’s arms; he was grieving as any father would grieve, and it was this picture that sparked a teachable moment for me to explain best why violence can never be the true answer to violence, for the simple reason that babies and children tend to get hurt when any violence breaks out or escalates, and so this should be completely unacceptable to any civilized society.


Politics will always be hard to explain to kids, as so much of it is puffed up posturing, ego saturated drama and groupthink, with some of it bordering on true insanity (you need only crack open a history book or unfold your morning paper to scan the headline to know that this is true.) All this is hard enough to convey to older children who want more answers following an act of terrorism, but violence on hometown soil is even more difficult to put into any kind of context. The shooting at the Inland Regional Center is a place where so many children in San Bernardino have been served for their developmental differences, along with their families. The removal of their security is an extra layer of cruelty on top of the extreme violence of this day, all generated toward those gathered to celebrate their shared work to make things better for our most vulnerable children. This is terrorism at its most dark, twisted and cruel form, and even if it makes us angry, it still cannot be fought by way of retaliation, which can only serve to perpetuate the insanity and the violence, and continue to hurt the innocent.


But I believe there is something we can say to our children now, a way we can explain how to move forward from such a terrible act. We can tell them that we hate the violent acts and loss of precious life this act of terrorism took from us, but that we also need to remind them that there is a baby living in San Bernardino now who lost both of her parents. She is an innocent soul, as innocent as any baby on earth and down through time, whether they slept in a cradle, a crib or a manger. She is grieving now, too, in the primal way babies grieve their parents.


We need to embrace this baby now with our compassion, as much for our own children’s sake as for this one baby’s, as it will help us all to heal together. Your children can come to care for her, to write her letters of their wishes that she grow up knowing love, and to draw her pictures of their fears, as well as their hopes, for a better life for all of us. To mail this homemade package of tender missives to this baby seems the opposite of the bombs we could send in retaliation halfway across the world.


We won’t be solving any of our problems in the world directly by creating empathy for this baby girl, but we will be doing the most important job we have in America on the home front: raising our children to become men and women of great wisdom, tolerance and compassion. They will ultimately inherit our world and our age old conflicts; we need to be sure they are given the tools they will need to fix them.


Every parent should leave such a legacy of love for their children, and when they don’t, as is the case with the shooters in San Bernardino, we should include their orphaned children into our own kind care. We need to do this if we want to call ourselves a civilized society, for it is a mark of any civilized society to care for its most vulnerable members.

North Star PJ and Jesse

North Star PJ and Jesse