When Lisa Kamer brought Leo home, she knew that Corgis could be a handful. She didn’t know that in addition to being difficult to train, he would also destroy every toy she bought him.
“One by one, everything I bought, he destroyed,” Kamer, owner of Framingham-based dog toy company Knots of Fun, said.
But when Kamer handed Leo a rag, he loved it. While her previous dogs had preferred to gnaw on furniture, Leo would chew happily on the soft but unsightly material.
Determined to wean Leo onto a toy “more attractive than a rag,” Kamer bought soft material from a local fabric store, and on a pleasant summer day in 2011, sat outdoors with Leo to start making the toys.
Neighborhood kids, attracted by the puppy, quickly joined in and started helping making toys. One girl in particular stood out to Kamer. The girl was a friend of one of the neighborhood children, and was blind in one eye. Though Kamer worried the girl might struggle, Leo loved the toy.
“It was perfect for her and it was perfect to my dog,” Kamer said. “It was a very meaningful experience. It gave me a lot of food for thought – this could be a good project for students like those at the Perkins School.”
Kamer’s next step was to get in touch with the program director for the Deafblind program at Perkins School for the Blind last year. The school, which already had a program making dog cookies and another volunteering at Buddy Dog, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, loved the idea.
At a Christmas fair held by the school last year, the toys sold out in one hour.
Christa Gicklhorn, a vocational coordinating teacher in the Deafblind program at the Perkins School for the Blind, says that making the toys has been a huge success with the students, who participate in all aspects of making the toys, including packaging and labeling.
Since discovering that making the toys provides a meaningful activity for children and young adults with disabilities, Kamer has reached out to other schools, including the Maryland School for the Blind and the Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham. She has put together a kit that includes everything students need to make the toys.
The kit, including material to make 180 toys, costs $499 on her website, www.knotsoffun.net, while a refill costs $150.
“Instead of fundraising with candy, this is a more meaningful way to engage the students,” Kamer said. “They can take pride and ownership in making something start to finish.”
In addition to her work with schools, Kamer also sells three different styles of the toys to retail stores. The toys can be purchased for $15-18 at PetWorld in Natick, Russels Garden Center in Wayland, and Polka Dog locations in Boston.
She has also worked with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts and Children’s Hospital, and is in talks with the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Kamer plans to change the company’s name to Happy Hands, Happy Dogs, and is working on a book about playing with dogs.
“Many schools have community service or a need to fundraise,” Kamer said. “This is a nice way to accomplish and hit all of those marks, even if it’s not an animal group. It’s a fun way for kids to engage, make something that’s different.”
Shandana Mufti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.