Special Hands Make Special Treats


By Ben Dungan

It’s not everyday that a dog biscuit just randomly shows up on your desk. Odd things show up on my desk from time to time, but in this case, I wasn’t sure how or why it was there.

I can appreciate a kind gesture like anyone can I suppose, but I prefer my treats to be more of the human variety. For the record, donuts or Reese’s peanut butter cups are always a good place to start with me.

But I was still fascinated by the dog biscuit. Why was it there and where did it come from? This wasn’t an ordinary dog biscuit. It was a peanut butter and pumpkin flavored treat, individually wrapped in plastic, with a note attached to it that had the words “Webb Waggers” printed on it.

After using my investigative skills, I was finally able to trace the origin of the mysterious dog biscuit to Webb Street School – a public school in Gastonia that serves over 160 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ranging in age from 5 to 22 years old.

In other words – it’s a special school for truly special people.

But not dogs. They may be special too, but they are not allowed to attend. But they sometimes get to reap the benefits of the new Webb Waggers initiative that many of the older students there are currently involved in.

Webb Waggers is a brand new enterprise that started this school year that allows many of the “transition” students at Webb Street School to get involved in the production of edible dog-related items.

These transition students range in age between 18 and 22 years old. Their curriculum at the school focuses more on learning life skills and acquiring marketable job skills that they can take with them after they graduate.

That’s why Mrs. Debbie Donoghue, a Life Skills teacher at Webb Street School, is so excited about this new program. She may be the “unofficial” CEO of Webb Waggers, Inc., but the real work is done by the students. They play a role in the entire process, from the making and the baking of the treats, all the way to the packaging, labeling and marketing.

The goal of this new initiative is to offer on-campus vocational training with real job expectations. The students learn various job skills along the way including oven safety, following directions from a recipe, proper sanitation practices and more.

When all is said and done, these students offer a high-quality hand-made dog biscuit, made with all natural ingredients, free from preservatives. Not only are they are guaranteed to last a year, but they are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a swagger in your tail wagger.

We all deserve a treat now and again. Even our little furry friends. But nothing beats the feeling of a job well done – that sense of ownership that we all get to experience when we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.

In addition to the peanut butter and pumpkin dog biscuits, they also make mini parsley breath savers. And coming soon – sweet potato dog biscuits!

At the present time, these dog treats are not for sale, but rather can be picked up by making a donation. The goal is to eventually have the program self-sustaining, with all proceeds being funneled right back into the program.

But the program is still in its puppy stage – still learning and still trying to find its way.

Early on in the program, Mrs. Donoghue had them taste one of the first batches they made. Since the ingredients used are all human grade, they are all safe to be eaten by you and me.

And the verdict was – they hated them! They just were not sweet enough.

However, despite them not liking the flavor themselves, they all wanted to take some home for their dogs to try.

So it seems that the dogs may be the winners in all of this, but that’s not exactly so. It’s these students that are the ultimate winners. At the end of the day, they are the ones gaining so much more – a sense of pride, purpose, ownership and a few marketable skills they can use down the road in life.

And that’s what makes it all so special.

To learn more about the Webb Waggers enterprise at Webb Street School or how you can pick up their dog treats, visit them online at www.gaston.k12.nc.us/webbst or call 704-864-9667.