When most kids are little and they want to try their hand at owning a business, they start a lemonade stand, or maybe sell some cookies... not John Blackwell. This 9-year-old autistic boy wanted to create a business to help others, specifically our four-legged best friends.
It all started when he convinced his mom, Stephanie, to adopt an underweight pit bull mix puppy from P.O.E.T. Animal Rescue. He was having a tough time when the pandemic hit, losing some of the progress he made socially when his school went virtual.
“He wanted to connect, and you could see it,” says Stephanie. “As soon as he’d seen a picture of Rosey, she was underweight and everything, but he instantly fell in love with her.”
She was a perfect fit for the family. John and Rosey have been inseparable ever since.
“She’s there for him every time he needs her,” explains Stephanie. “ [She] Cuddles him, licks his face, or puts pressure on him - it seems like she knows what he needs.”
About a year later, around Easter of 2021, he saw another dog in need of help at that same shelter, and that gave him an idea. He was already looking into making healthy dog treats for his family’s two dogs since the older one had a lot of allergies, but why not make dog treats to sell, and donate some of the proceeds to help animals in need. Thus, Pup-Verse was born.
“Where you can spoil your dog while helping dogs in need,” John explains.
The treats are made with all human-grade ingredients. The first treats he ever made were the carrot-apple ones but he soon added many more including pup pretzels, cookies, training treats, and more. Then he branched into other avenues as well, making collars, bandanas, toys, rings, and more.
“I couldn’t tell him no,” admits his mom, laughing.
He’s involved every step of the way, creating the logo, helping to design the website, handling the money when he’s at events, and of course making and testing new product ideas. The whole family got in on it as well - mom helps sew the bandanas - big sister Haley takes the product photos, and little sister Hannah even has her own line of dog jewelry. Don’t worry, he pays his employees a fair wage of hugs and kisses.
In the first 5 or so months of the business, they were able to donate over $500. His goal is to donate $1,000 by Christmas and he is well on his way. He sells his treats both online and at local events and markets.
Though some days are rough, he has a lot of support.
“My husband and I are beyond proud,” says Stephanie. “As children, you get told, you can’t do things, that you’re too young. We aren’t going to let anything stop him. If he wants to do something, he can do it, and he’s making a real change.”