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It was a routine trip to the pet store two years ago that evolved into what Jonathan Gould would jokingly refer to later as “the most expensive home movie ever made.”

And one that’s been well worth it for the Beta Sigma Beta alum, his wife Heather, and now 14-year-old son, Cory – the focus of their homegrown film – For the Love of Dogs. Winner of a handful of film festival awards since it debuted last summer, the 26-minute film documents Cory’s journey from the National Dog Show to Westminster, while dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome.

One of a handful of autism spectrum disorders, the effects of Asperger’s are not well-understood by the masses. It was not until Cory turned four years old that he was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s, but they knew Cory was special.  He was exceedingly bright – teaching himself to read at the age of three –  and possessed a photographic memory. 

Once the diagnosis came, the Goulds immersed themselves with knowledge about Asperger’s and in the decade since, are still learning about Asperger’s and autism spectrum disorders.  For the Love of Dogs shares their perspectives of what it is like to raise a child on the autism spectrum.

Cory’s mom, Heather, got the idea to film Cory’s journey after meeting the wife of a PetSmart executive at one of their stores.  It seemed like a perfect feature story for the chain’s employee newsletter. Cory was very well known amongst the staff of many PetSmarts in the Phoenix area, and he often wowed them with his knowledge of dogs.

The Goulds got in touch with filmmaker Tim O’Donnell through a family connection. O’Donnell, whose work has been picked up by ESPN, heard Heather’s ideas and was up to the challenge. 

“After the National Dog Show, Tim was blown away,” Gould says. “‘He said, ‘I really wasn’t expecting this, but I think you have a story here.’”

“Usually the way films are made is that you develop a budget and a concept and then you get investors to fund the project, then you go and do it,” Gould says. “We did it totally backwards. We came up with the concept. He came up with the budget. We started filming.  It is a very involved process:  camera and equipment rentals, colorists and sound experts, music selection, web design, marketing, social media…”

But their film has already struck chords with plenty of audiences. And although Cory has never seen it, For The Love of Dogs has won multiple film festival awards including being named the Best Short Documentary at the 2014 Phoenix Film Festival and earning the Audience Award at the 2014 Boston Film Festival.  It is soon to debut at festivals in Italy and Taiwan.

 “Anything that (Cory) has an interest in, he can remember it and recall it with photographic recall. It’s really an amazing thing,” Gould says. “He read books, encyclopedias, he watched Dogs 101 on Animal Planet. He started going on YouTube and watching the dog shows. He can go back over 10 years and he can tell you which dog won any of the major dog shows – which dogs won the breed, which were best in show, he could probably tell you the names of the dogs.”

And he could draw them in stunning detail, too. From the cropped ears of a pit bull to the drooping jowls of a St. Bernard – minute features were never lost on Cory.   Jonathan says the Goulds have storage bin after storage bin full of drawing of Cory’s dogs, sketches that also worked their way into promotional art for the film.

In addition to personally donating to various autism-related charities over the years, the Goulds have looked for ways to use the film to both raise awareness and money for the autism community. They’re currently looking into the next step – gaining interest among sponsors, marketers, and potential distributors for the film. A slot on HBO, Showtime or the Discovery Channel would be ideal, Jonathan says.

“We didn’t go into this for fame. We didn’t go into it for money. We did it for really, just a personal interest,” Gould says. “I’ve reconciled that I may never see the money back that I invested into it and I’m okay with that as long as we can continue to tell the story, to help educate people and dispel the myths and misconceptions of what Asperger’s and Autism is; so people aren’t afraid of it, and ultimately to help people. Because when Cory was diagnosed, we didn’t know anybody who had it or had kids with Asperger’s or autism-related disorders.”

“I joked with Heather that this would be the most expensive home movie ever made on the planet,” Gould says. “But it was a feel-good project and it was something that we could have forever. It was very special.”

Click here for website for the film, where you can watch the three-minute trailer of the documentary.  The full documentary, which is 26 minutes in length, is available for purchase here.  You can also support the film by clicking here  to view an artistic collaboration between Cory and fine artist, Tanner Lawley.  Cory contributed the dogs to the piece!  Like Us on our Facebook page, For the Love of Dogs, or on Instagram #loveofdogsmovie.