Patty is the Founder and Executive Director of the North Star Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with social, emotional, or educational challenges by pairing them with quality autism assistance dogs. Inspired by her own journey as an “autism mom” and her desire to help her son Dan who is on the spectrum, Patty became a pioneer in the field of breeding, training, and placing autism assistance dogs with families who have children with special needs. She broke away from traditional modalities of training a service dog and designed a unique program tailored to the specific needs of each child.
Jack is an outgoing boy who loves baseball, drums, and swimming. He also has autism. Jack struggled with emotional outbursts, making eye contact, and anxiety. When Jack was ten-years-old, Nardi – a North Star autism assistance dog – came to live with him. The duo have become inseparable. Jack is now more socially aware, focused at school, and has improved academically. He has also developed solid friendships and was able to stop taking all medication.
David loves reading, swimming, gymnastics, and Wii bowling. He has been mainstreamed into the public school system and will soon finish third grade. With a full-time aide at his side, David is currently performing at, or above, grade level.
When we first met David at age seven, he was withdrawn and not overly verbal, mostly speaking in whispers or cartoon catch phrases. But on the very first day David met Buddy, he suddenly used his full voice because he wanted to communicate with Buddy, his new friend. David no longer speaks in whispers, interacts regularly with Buddy, and has made huge strides both socially and academically.
Nardi is a three-year-old North Star autism assistance dog. Originally from a litter of 11 pups, he was puppy raised by volunteer puppy raiser, Judy Sullivan and dog trainer, Janet Mines Kring. Nardi loves to swim, paddleboard, play on the beach, listen to a good book, and snuggle. He also likes to chase balls, watch Jack play baseball, and sneak ice cream. He and his boy Jack are the best friends and Nardi is especially good at comforting Jack when he is sick or emotionally distressed.
Buddy – part of the 15th generation of the North Star breeding line –was puppy-raised in New Jersey by Nancy Goldberg and her sons, Justin and Ryan. He also spent several months at an elementary school in Pennsylvania with first grade teacher and volunteer puppy raiser, Denise Skalski. Buddy took to his boy, David, immediately and happily settled in with the Williams family. Since his arrival, Buddy has helped David sleep through the night, become more sociable, develop confidence, improved his pragmatic speech skills, develop confidence, and make new friends.
Denise Skalski is a six-time volunteer Puppy Rasier with the North Star Foundation. She teaches first grade at the Mary C. Howse Elementary School in Downington, Pennsylvania. Denise helps to socialize assistance-dogs-in-training by bringing them into her classroom daily where the dogs learn how to cope with noise, distractions, tempting edibles, and the boundless energy of younger children. What started as a pilot project is now a beloved tradition within the school.
Nancy Goldberg and her sons, Ryan and Justin, have puppy raised nine dogs for the North Star Foundation. What started as a mitzvah project for her eldest son, Ryan, morphed into a regular volunteer activity for the entire Goldberg family. Nancy and her boys help to housebreak the puppies, teach them basic commands (and good manners) and appropriate play. Socialization is also key––where Nancy goes, the puppies go too.
Meet MADELINE, NADIA & LYDIA
Dan was a precocious child who taught himself to read by the age of two. After his autism diagnosis, his parents, Patty and Ron, observed that all was well with Dan inside their home because it was a supportive environment. The real problems emerged outside their home—at school and in the community, where people were less accepting, and sometimes even cruel. At age seven, Dan benefitted from one of the first autism assistance dog placements in the world. Dan’s positive experience with what was then termed a “social dog” inspired Patty to create the North Star Foundation. Dan now has two degrees (BA Communications, MFA filmmaking) and works as a freelance editor for film and television.
All three girls are markedly different in their personalities and face various challenges ranging from ASD to ADHD to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but all three are also fiercely protective of Wally, Lydia’s autism assistance dog whom they call their “fur brother.” Though Wally was brought into their family to specifically help Lydia, he “multi-tasks” and provides emotional support for the entire family.
Wally came to the Janus family close to five years ago to help support Lydia, who had been diagnosed with a common form of autism (PDD-NOS or Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified), ADHD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Lydia had a penchant for darting out in traffic and due to her sensory issues, was prone to melt downs. Wally, a Golden Retriever, is a gentle giant. He helps to calm Lydia down and keep her safe. He also helps Lydia’s sisters, Madeline and Lydia, who face challenges as well.