By Susan Spisak
K9 Kookies LLC is an ambitious business endeavor kicked off last summer by Waldoboro parents, Danielle and Jason Stewart, for and with their lovable, often goofy, and delightful 18-year-old son, Landen. Danielle and Jason knew they needed something to teach him job skills that would keep him happy and fulfilled as there are limited opportunities for the non-verbal, Fragile X syndrome, and autistic Landen to pursue. They’re also hoping that profits can be used towards an all-important Autism Service Dog in the future.
To understand this disorder, Danielle explained that if you were to ask him a simple question, he may be able to answer you with a one- or two-word reply, but you cannot have a functional conversation with him. “You can imagine with those barriers, how communication can be such a struggle for Landen.” She added a lot of his responses come from him copying things he has learned from TV shows. “It is actually quite amazing to see him pull a line from a TV show or movie and use it appropriately in a conversation.”
Danielle said the path to making delicious healthy treats for canines was an easy choice. “He loves dogs and cats, so we were brainstorming what we could find for Landen that could include his four-legged friends. It didn't take us long to come up with dog biscuits,” said Danielle, adding that he had a special connection with the family dogs, Cypress and Zeppelin who have since passed and their two cats. Jazzy, often considered Landen's cat, meows to wake him, and runs into his lap after school. His non-verbal issue is not an obstacle with animals.
This has been a family affair for the young man who everyone says has the ability to make them smile and laugh. In July, research began, recipes were sifted over, baking commenced, and samples were offered to their friends and family’s pets. They arrived at peanut butter pumpkin dog biscuits. They are made with natural peanut butter, pumpkin, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, and eggs. “We have had several people tell us that they have picky pups, but they even love our K9 Kookies.”
Tyeler, Landen’s older brother, is involved with K9 Kookies by offering guidance with his business degree smarts. They also do brother things--the duo hangs out on weekends, listen to music (rap is their favorite), play video games, and have nerf wars.
His sister Baylee supports from afar. (Although when she’s home, she and her little brother like to listen to tunes in the car.) She’s serving in the US Air Force at Fairchild AFB in Spokane WA. “I send her video clips and she edits them and gets them back to me,” Danielle explained.
Danielle’s brother, Tony Poulin, has been a godsend--he is a Professor of Culinary Arts at Southern Maine Community College. “He has had great insight into streamlining our baking process and has such a wealth of knowledge. It took a few months to get our licenses and the business side of things in working order.” His daughter, Rachel Kathryn Poulin, designed the labels for them. “We are blessed to have a great support system of family and friends willing to help us with whatever we need,” said Danielle.
As far as K9 Kookies, Landen helps his parents after school with part of the process. (He’s a senior at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, and while he’ll graduate with his class, he’ll continue schooling until he’s 22. He loves playing Unified Basketball there, is also their football team manager, and will stay on as he’s their number one fan.)
Truth be told, Landen’s forte isn’t baking, but they’re trying to get him more comfortable in the kitchen. “He has some sensory sensitivities and doesn't love to get his hands dirty, which can obviously happen when you are in the kitchen,” explained Danielle. That said, he is an expert at labeling, counting the kookies, and placing them in the bags. “We made him a shadow board of laminated papers with outlines of the kookies, so he counts out 15 kookies by filling out the laminated sheets and then fills the bags. He is fantastic at it."
The kookies are made in small batches, and they bake them two to three times each week. While they do not look alike, that’s the point. “They are unique, just like we are. Our focus is teaching Landen job skills that do not always come easily for him. They may not all be uniform and perfectly shaped but that is okay. We are all different, just like our K9 Kookies.”
The Hope for a Service Dog
Jason became aware of service dogs through his position at the Bolduc Correctional Facility. Certain inmates raise and train pups, and he shared the info with Danielle. “Bolduc used to work with Little Angels [Service Dogs] out of North Conway, NH,” she explained. “It was eye opening and where the goal of a service dog for Landen was born.” (She clarified that Bolduc is now working with another service dog organization.)
For Landen, an Autism Service Dog can change the scope of his attitude and outlook. “We see the effect [dogs] have in Landen's life every time he is around one. It is remarkable to witness,” shared Danielle. They’re so excited to find a canine best friend and helper for their boy. He has come a long way from his younger years, but it’s still stressful for him going to unknown places. “He can bolt, so it is always a fear when we are in public, and a service dog could be tethered to him, so he would not be able to bolt into a roadway or parking lot.”
A service dog can also accompany Landen to medical or dental visits, school activities, and shopping to decrease anxiety. The dog can be trained to recognize and quietly interrupt self-harming behaviors or help de-escalate an emotional meltdown. For instance, the canine can respond to signs of agitation with a calming action, like leaning against him or gently laying across his lap.
Support Landen and the Stewart’s in their mission to get a service dog for this sweet guy. The kookies are available at Moody's Gifts, Good Things Crafts & Thrift Shop, Laugh Loud Smile Big, Jefferson Market & General Store, King Ro Market, Tenant's Harbor General Store, and Delano's Seafood Market, and they’re working on other sales outlets. To purchase online, visit k9kookiesonline.com. You can also link to their socials from there for more info.
An example of Landen’s gentle, funny spirit: Danielle and I chatted on a phone call just before the holidays, with Landen and Jason listening on speakerphone. As Danielle, Jason, and I said our goodbyes, Landen chimed in with a hearty HO, HO, HO. He had me laughing out loud as I clicked off..”