The Barking Lot – America’s Finest Dog Blog (10/01/22)

The Barking Lot is a regular weekly feature of This Just In…Originally written by both my lovely wife, Jennifer and me, this blog brings you the latest news about our furry friends including articles, columns, photos and videos. Enjoy!

THE WEEKEND DOG-WALKING FORECAST: We grade the weather outlook for taking your pet outdoors.

TODAY:  Areas of patchy fog early. Partly cloudy skies. High around 65.  “C”

SUNDAY:  A few clouds early, otherwise mostly sunny. High 63. “C”

Time now for DOGS IN THE NEWS, canines that made headlines the past week.

Dogs can smell when you’re stressed. MORE.

Dog called ‘Cutest Canine’ by TSA retires in Minnesota after 10 years of service: ‘Best defense.’

Heartbroken pet owner gets tattoo crafted with beloved dog’s ashes.

Vet reveals top 5 dog breeds owners should get.

Special-Needs Teen Launches Popular Dog Treat Business

Nick Napolitano, who has cerebral palsy, and his family run a thriving business


Right from the beginning, the odds were stacked against Nick Napolitano. He was born 10 weeks premature and, at 11 months old, was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which limited his limbs to little or no use.

He wasn’t off to a good start.

Bone On Bone? These ''Bionic'' Knee Sleeve Will Transform Your Knees Back 17 Years

“Quadriplegia is the most severe of the three types of spastic cerebral palsy. It requires lifelong treatment and support,” wrote Dr. Gina Jansheski, of Cerebral Palsy Guidance. “In spastic quadriplegia, the condition affects both legs and arms as well as the trunk and face in many children.

“The overarching cause is brain damage before birth, during, or shortly after.”

Napolitano was born in 2003 and began physical therapy at 6 months old.

“We learned at probably about two and half years old that he wouldn’t walk,” Napolitano’s mother, Jennifer Hinze, told The Epoch Times. “I joined every support group I could. I read everything I could. I got involved with other parents of kids with the same diagnosis.”Hinze estimates that the number of operations Napolitano has had is somewhere between 20 and 25.

“Every single time he has a growth spurt, he has to have surgery,” she said.

Napolitano has been in a wheelchair his whole life and has limited use of his hands. He works his iPad using a joystick and speaks very slowly.

Regardless, Hinze wants to keep her son as active as he can be.

“Nicholas has been involved in Special Olympics since he was in elementary school,” she said. “We keep him very busy.”

Getting a Dog

Six years ago, Hinze surprised her son with a puppy, which they named Hemi. It’s part Shih Tzu and part Rashon.

“I was actually on vacation when Mom got him,” Napolitano told The Epoch Times.

Hinze and Napolitano’s father were divorced at that point, and Napolitano was visiting his dad. When he returned, he had a dog.

Hinze, her second husband whom she married in 2018, and Napolitano live in Augusta, Wisconsin. Napolitano’s father passed away in 2021.

Hemi Inspires a Business

Napolitano graduated from high school last year and currently attends a school for disabled young adults, where he learns life skills. But Hinze’s plan was to find him employment after high school.

Hinze had worked as a life coach for students with disabilities at her son’s high school before he went there.

“I would see a lot of kids [with disabilities] graduate and not get jobs,” she said. “And so I had already thought, ‘Well, I don’t want that to happen to Nick. So we need to come up with a business for him.’

“I wasn’t even sure what the business would be. All I knew was that I love to bake and so does Nick.”

One day, they were ready to bake cupcakes when Hinze took a look at Hemi and thought of dog treats.

“I knew I wanted it to be an easy recipe, and I knew I wanted it to be a recipe that didn’t have preservatives in it,” she said. “I needed it to be something easy for him to remember. So when he’s talking about his dog treats, he can tell everybody what they’re made out of.”

They settled on a recipe using oatmeal, peanut butter, and banana.

Epoch Times Photo
Nick Napolitano with a batch of dog treats and his pooch, Hemi, the inspiration for the business. (Courtesy of Jennifer Hinze)

Once they started making them, they put the word out on social media.

“It just blew up,” Hinze said. “We’d make some and package them individually, and we drove all around and handed out all these dog treats, and everybody was like, ‘You should make a business out of this.’”

So they did.

Exponential Growth

Before they knew it, their product was being sold in 21 stores throughout Wisconsin, including coffee shops, one major grocery store, five Ace Hardware stores, a few boutiques, a few restaurants, and a nutrition club.

“All of those stores had contacted us,” Hinze said.

She credited this to the exposure they’ve had on television news and radio talk shows and in magazines.

“We went from one store to 19 stores in one year,” Hinze said.

The goal all along was to have a bakery store where they could make and sell the dog treats, because baking them at home takes up the entire kitchen and a bedroom, which serves as their base for shipping the treats to distant vendors.

They discovered a small building for sale nearby. They purchased it in May and started renovations in June. There’s a grand opening planned for October.

Not Just Dog Treats

“We had so many people that would say, ‘Well, we don’t have a dog but we still want to support you,’” Hinze said.

So Hinze and Napolitano partnered with Door County Coffee & Tea Co. and sell their products as well.

Additionally, they sell stickers, candles, and “Nick’s Dog Treats” T-shirts and coffee mugs, but the treats and the coffee are the big sellers.

Epoch Times Photo
Nick Napolitano and his mother, Jennifer Hinze, show off their “Nick’s Dog Treats” T-shirts. (Courtesy of Jennifer Hinze)

Their dog treats are also appealing to cats.

“Cats love our treats,” Hinze said. “We’ve had people buy them, and they send us videos of their cats eating them.”

Napolitano said, “My friend Ethan has a cat, and he gave his cat some of my dog treats. He actually ate them all.”

The Future

Hinze feels that since the business has survived for four years—which included the COVID-19 pandemic—and she has already been asked twice about franchising, it will continue to be successful.

Napolitano will be in school for two more years and will also work a few hours per week with a job coach at Goodwill, pricing merchandise.

But once those are finished, his focus will be on the dog treats business from that point forward.

“‘Your dog treats store will be your career,’” Hinze said. “That’s what I always tell him.”

That’s it for this week. Thanks for stopping by.

We’d really appreciate it if you forward this on to other dog lovers you know. Let them have some fun!

A Barking Lot favorite, Ricochet…

I may be there today. Will you join me?

That’s it for this week. See ya, BARK, next Saturday!

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