Little Big Dog Treats are Something to Bark About
Cailyn Wheaton of Lebanon was born with Down syndrome, but she hasn’t let it stop her from achieving her dream career. In November 2015, the now 23-year-old started making dog treats with her mother, Sandi, for their dogs – a pug named Phoenix and a Samoyed named Briley Ray.
“We wanted to do something fun for our dogs for Christmas, and Cailyn had previously been in post-secondary job training in a school district out of state that had a dog treat company,” Sandi says. “We did a lot of research about making dog treats and tried and tweaked recipes. We had so much fun making them together that we decided to start a business.”
Little Big Dog Treats
Together, Cailyn and Sandi launched their company, Little Big Dog Treats LLC, with a focus on creating tasty, all-natural treats made with organic ingredients. For dogs with sensitive stomachs, Little Big Dog Treats keeps it simple using human food-grade ingredients that can be found in most anyone’s home food pantry.
“We knew we would sell the dog treats at area farmers markets, so we wanted to try to use as many locally produced ingredients as possible,” Sandi says. “We use local eggs and honey, and we partner with nearby farms to get our sweet potatoes and green beans.”
The process of making dog treats is somewhat like baking a batch of cookies. Cailyn and Sandi roast the sweet potatoes, steam the green beans and grind their own oats to make oat flour. Then they make the dough, roll it out and cut it into bone shapes before baking. The treats don’t contain any sugar or salt.
The company makes them in three sizes – small for little dogs, medium for average-sized dogs, and big for large dogs.
Cailyn chose the company name and logo and has been involved in every aspect of the business.
“It has been so cool for me to see her grow in her self-confidence and self-esteem,” Sandi says. “When we were looking for a job or career for her, she always said she wanted to do something with me. So it has been meaningful getting to work with her, hanging out at farmers markets and engaging with our customers and their dogs.”
The top-selling flavor of Little Big Dog Treats is peanut butter, followed by a five-flavor mix called Music City Mix that contains peanut butter, sweet potato, apple, carrot and green beans. The company recently introduced two new flavors: cheddar cheese and maple bacon.
Dog Treats for a Cause
For Sandi and Cailyn, Little Big Dog Treats isn’t just about making dogs happy. It’s also about filling an important need in society.
“Our goal and dream is to have our own factory store in downtown Lebanon with a bakery where we can hire more special needs adults,” Sandi says.
According to The Arc, an organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the majority of adults with these types of disabilities are either unemployed or underemployed, despite their ability, desire and willingness to work in the community.
“Seeing my daughter grow in confidence has made me want to grow our business,” Sandi says. “Our goal is to provide the opportunity for her to participate fully in society and enjoy the benefits of working in an inclusive work environment, where employees with and without disabilities work side by side.”
In addition to several farmers markets around Nashville, Little Big Dog Treats sells at the Batch & Bushel Showcase in Lebanon, Homestead Manor in Thompson’s Station, Porter Flea in Nashville, Crafty Nashville, the Nashville Pet Expo and various events held around the holidays.
“Conversations have started with area boutiques, pet care businesses and natural food stores in our area about making our treats available for purchase at their locations in the near future,” Sandi says. “This is an exciting direction for us because it will allow us to begin hiring additional staff as our sales increase.”
To learn more about Little Big Dog Treats or order online, visit littlebigdogtreats.com.