A 13-year-old from Dapto has turned her love of dogs into a small business that has helped her develop life and social skills while donating funds to support a local animal rescue organisation.
Summer Shaw has loved watching YouTube videos about all things animals for a long time, but it was when she saw someone making all sorts of treats and food for their dog that her interest piqued and she asked her mum Karen McLean if they could try some things out for their rescue pup, Mater.
“Summer was fascinated and wanted to make treats for Mater,” Karen said. “I said, ‘Let’s make a batch and maybe even sell them’.”
Now, once a week, Summer, Karen and Summer’s support worker Dylan Klohk bake up a batch of dog treats from scratch, trialling different flavour combinations, decorations and shapes.
“Summer loves packaging and decorating way more than anything else and then giving them to dogs most of all,” Karen said.
Summer not only uses the treats to befriend new dogs on walks but, thanks to a supportive community, she also sells them to Wollongong dog groomer Dogh and Co, Real Life Assistants, her school – Peterborough – and even at some markets.
But this isn’t a money-making venture and despite the popularity of her products, she donates all the profits to the Animal Welfare League, just keeping enough to fund the next batch of treats.
“It goes to a good place and it comes from a good place,” Dylan said. “It’s done ethically, it’s not going out for profit, it’s not trying to make a buck, it comes from a genuine interest from somebody that actually cares.”
For Summer, who has autism and a mild intellectual disability, it has also helped her develop important skills throughout every step of the process, from ordering ingredients and packaging, to using different equipment in the kitchen.
“You learn from stuff you love,” Karen said.
Along with other hobbies and passions such as Lego, horse riding and puzzles, the business keeps Summer engaged and busy and maintains a routine, with around an hour on Tuesday afternoons dedicated to baking.
“It’s one of the more rewarding shifts for me,” Dylan said. “Days like this, it’s great to hang out with Sum and have her be comfortable around me as well.”
Now, they’re preparing and trying out flavours for the coming festive season and preparing for the Real Life Assistants Christmas Market on 23 November.