This 5th Grader With Down Syndrome Is the Inspiring Pet Entrepreneur We All Needed Today
Connor Rodriguez’ dog treat business took off during the pandemic, and shows no sign of stopping!
Whenever Queens, N.Y. resident Connor Rodriguez noticed his parents in the kitchen baking and cooking, he always wanted to be right beside them. Close on the 11-year-old's heels were his family's adopted Labrador retriever mixes, Max and Scoob. Connor slipped morsels of whatever he could share with his furry best friends, including banana bread and other treats.
"One day he wanted to give the dogs some of our chocolate chip cookies and we told him we can't, as chocolate is bad for dogs," Marian Tinnelly-Rodriguez, Connor's mother, tells Daily Paws. "So he suggested that we bake cookies that they can eat." This is exactly how young entrepreneurs become business moguls: they find an unfulfilled marketplace and create a product for it!
This was in the fall of 2020, when the pandemic kept everyone close to home. But Connor, his mom, and dad, Fred, used this time to experiment with different flavor fusions. As long as the treats were all-natural and included ingredients that were safe for dogs to eat, the possibilities were endless. "Connor suggested ideas and crazy combinations, which we tried," Tinnelly-Rodriguez says. These include bacon, peanut butter, and pumpkin, as well as bacon, banana, and blueberry. Yum and yum!
Choosing classic doggo shapes such as little paws and wee bones, the next big test was whether the primary target audience, Max and Scoob, would enjoy Connor's creations. His mom says not only did the pups like them—they absolutely loved them! This was important to him, as Connor has a tight bond with the dogs, and they were a big comfort during the pandemic. On the left is Scoob, age 1, and on the right, Max, age 3.
How does a young boy make the leap from casual canine chef to an aspiring pet business owner? Promotion, promotion, promotion. To get the word out about his new venture, Connor's Canine Cookies: Made With Love… & an Extra Chromosome, he participated in holiday gift fairs, farmers' markets, and other vendor events. Petting dogs and feeding them scrumptious cookies tasty enough for humans to eat? Sounds like a great day at work!
The homemade, preservative-free dog treats sell out almost immediately, and the family is flush with regular orders—so much so, Connor's father transitioned from his full-time job to handle business affairs for the operation. Now the canine cookies are available to ship nationwide.
But Connor isn't a hands-off CEO. With his love of baking and dogs leading the way, he's active in all aspects of development, from production to product spokesperson.
He's had some fantastic marketing and philanthropic ideas for the company, too, such as donating $1 for each purchase to local animal organizations, and hiring other individuals with special needs. Expansion plans include a canine cookie food truck!
"Connor is a loving and giving person who is an inspiration to us as parents," Tinnelly-Rodriguez says. "He's taught us what it means to live life and always reminds us to just be happy."
He's also an accomplished author. Two years ago, his family published I Am Connor, written from his perspective about what it's like to have Down Syndrome. The book is often shared in schools. One particular message from it just fills our heart: "Some people may say I am different because of the way I look and sound," Connor writes. "But I say we are more alike than you think."