Nick’s Dog Treats: turning obstacles into opportunities

Updated: Jul. 14, 2022 at 9:30 PM CDT
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AUGUSTA, Wis. (WEAU) - “Really, the only difference is they can do just about everything that a non-disabled person can do. They just need a little bit of help.”

In 2003, Jennifer Hinze’s son Nick was born two and a half months pre-mature. At 11-months old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“Nick has been in a wheelchair since probably he was two and a half or three,” Hinze said. “He got his first power chair at three. Nick has very tight tone. He started physical therapy at six months old and he has continued physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy his whole life.”

While the diagnosis changed her family forever, she says it was for the better.

However, as Nick got older, Jennifer was made aware of a potential obstacle he may encounter.

“The statistics are about 70 to 75% of individuals with disabilities are unemployed,” Hinze explained. “And so I thought to myself, I don’t want that to happen to my son.”

Taking matters into their own hands, Nick and his mom created more than just a job.

“Well, Nick loves to bake, and I do too. So, I put out a blurb on Facebook and said, ‘Hey, Nick’s making dog treats does anyone want some?’,” Hinze reflected. “We got so many responses, we thought, hey, this might be a business for you. So that’s how we got started.”

Four years later, ‘Nick’s Dog Treats’ has grown faster and bigger than the mother and son could have ever imagined.

In 2020 alone, they went from having their all natural products carried in one store to 21 stores. Now baking treats daily, they’ve shipped to all 50 states and overseas. They’ll be opening their own storefront in Augusta this fall.

“My goal is when we have the store to be able to hire individuals with disabilities,” Hinze said.

“I think it’s a really good job for me to do,” said Nick Napolitano, creator of Nick’s Dog Treats. “I love it.”

Nick’s Dog Treats has also created the chance for Nick to make new friends like Jaidan. Jaidan developed a traumatic brain injury at age 11 after a 107 degree fever.

Jaidan’s mom Jeanine Nugent says it’s amazing to see her daughter light up when given the responsibility of making dog treats.

“Jaidan came over and she started cutting out the shapes,” Nugent said. “Jaidan would get the dough ready and Jaidan would roll it again and she was doing it all very independently.”

With each batch came a new realization.

“Jen and I are kind of perfectionists, and so it’s really hard,” Nugent explained. “If she and I were doing these products completely on our own the things that we’d look for, the little imperfections the okay it’s not quite smooth. It’s a little bit chipped on the side. That little imperfection probably means that there was so much more extra love put into that. It’s so imperfectly perfect.”

Hinze says she wouldn’t change Nick for the world.

“He’s perfect to me the way he is.”

But she will change the world for him. All with the help of three simple ingredients: oatmeal, peanut butter and bananas.

Plus, a whole lot of love.

For more information on Nick’s Dog Treats, click here.

To learn about Jaidan’s lotion and essential oil business, click here.

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