For the Love of Dogs & Autism

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 View Comments

This post is by Autism Speaks Staffer Jacqueline Kepping.  

The documentary For the Love of Dogs will be screening at the Sprout Film Festival in NYC May 31st. If you are looking for a movie that will make you cry, make you smile, and ultimately inspire you, you must check it out!

The film features Cory Gould, a boy whose knowledge and passion for dogs is limitless. Cory knows the name of every breed, its characteristics, its history, its strengths and weaknesses. With one look, Cory can draw a dog with an uncanny likeness, and a striking soulfulness. Cory is an eleven year-old from Phoenix, AZ, and he has autism.  Cory’s parents, Heather and Jonathan Gould, trace Cory’s journey through therapy sessions, school, his local PetSmart, and finally to the National and Westminster Dog Shows (also known as the ‘Super-Bowl of dog shows’). We get an unusual glimpse into Cory’s world, and learn how his love of dogs allows him to connect with the larger world around him.

It was over two years ago that Cory developed his passion for dogs. His mom Heather had been struggling to connect with him, so when Cory started asking to visit their neighborhood PetSmart together, she happily took him. It soon became a daily routine, something that they shared together. Like many children with autism, Cory experiences hypersensitivity, anxiety, and difficulty communicating, so initially Heather feared that a store like PetSmart would be overwhelming. Instead, she found that it was a place where he could connect with people, even complete strangers.

“When we go to PetSmart, it’s connecting with people on a totally different level because people love their dogs, and they like to talk to Cory about their dogs. It’s helped him improve his social skills. Every time we go, it’s like a new lesson,” says Heather.

Naturally, when Cory asked his parents to go to the National Dog Show in Philadelphia, PA, and the Westminster Dog Show in NY, his parents couldn’t say no.  The film shows the performance arena from Cory’s perspective, noises echoing and bellowing around, people hustling back and forth, and yet he confidently makes his way from trainer to trainer, discussing their dogs with them, and wowing them with his far-reaching knowledge.

Heather’s advice to other families looking to connect with their children with autism? “Show your child a genuine interest in whatever it is that fascinates them.” She says, “By doing so, you will not only improve the connection you have with them, but give them a meaningful way to connect with the world around them.” While this won’t be the answer for everyone, in the Gould’s case, it changed their lives.

For the Love of Dogs was selected to be screened at the Arizona International Film Festival and the Independent Film Festival of Boston. It won best short documentary at the Phoenix Film Festival and Tribeca VisionFest. You can check out the trailer here!

To learn more about programs that train service dogs to help individuals with autism, click here. You may also enjoy “Our Special Dog for Our Special Boy,” by Autism Speaks staffer Michele Arbogast.