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Patty Gross: Founder of North Star Foundation

North Star breeds and trains compassionate, kind, therapeutic golden retrievers for kids with social and emotional difficulties, such as autism, Down Syndrome, PTSD, and more. North Star dogs help kids feel emotionally supported and gain social confidence, which benefits the entire family. Learn more about their impactful work here!

What benefits do dogs provide to kids with social and emotional difficulties?

Dogs provide unconditional love, which is a rarity in our society. It’s especially rare for children with behavioral issues when they are young or those who act a little differently. Dogs automatically, if bred and raised correctly, have unconditional love and regard that you can count on. Our dogs are bred and socialized to love children and people. Those messages are ingrained in them from the time they are born. A lot of who dogs are is in the genes. When you breed for a specific temperament, you get a lot of success. I educate children on the spectrum and with other challenges on how to use dogs as a therapeutic tool. Dogs can be part of early intervention, can help someone going to college, or can help someone find friends in a new environment.

What does the training process entail?

Although the training is important, it’s not what puts the “magic” in our dogs. The magic comes from their temperament, which is a combination of nature and nurture. We train dogs to be extremely responsive to people. Our dogs can sense when cortisol, the stress hormone, is rising and give kids an alert. Dogs bring down the child’s cortisol levels, and the child actually lowers the dog’s cortisol levels as well when they interact. Every relationship between dog and child is different, so it’s all about being consistent. We place our dogs with their families rather young because we feel that creates the best bond. We do as much training as we can, but it’s ultimately up to the child and the family to give the dog the right attention and feedback to get the best results.

Can you tell me about the education component of your work?

There are a lot of myths in this field and it’s my mission to educate people on the benefits of dogs for kids with social and emotional difficulties. When we place a dog with a family, the whole neighborhood is excited that there’s a new dog around. There’s a lot of education that happens when people stop to pet and say hello to the dog, we hope that they stick around to learn more about the work that the dog is actually doing. There are teachers that work with us who bring North Star dogs into their classrooms. It not only helps our dogs with exposure to a new, stimulating environment, but allows the students to learn about our dogs and what they do. It’s a slow process for society to become more accepting of people with differences, and North Star dogs help mitigate that fear.

How do families get a North Star dog?

Families can apply on our website for a dog and will be placed on our waitlist. We learn a lot about the child who needs the dog, the family, and what they need. We do our best to keep the list to a year maximum. I’m on my 10th generation of golden retrievers that I’ve bred. At this point, I’ve worked with hundreds kids and their families. We used to place 20 dogs annually, now we do about 10. We are at nature’s mercy— as much as I wish I could, I can’t control whether a dog has one, three, or nine puppies in her litter. There’s normally two or three litters per year. The families are matched with a puppy and we work on training in tandem while the puppy grows. Eventually, the puppy goes full-time with the family. After we stop working with them, I still get to hear so many cool stories about what our dogs are up to and their impact.


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