Entering the headquarters of Bark n Pawz in Lower Chittering the comforting aromas of apple and cinnamon immediately set your taste buds at the ready. Alas, the treats being turned out by Connor Moroney and his Mum Jo were not to accompany our cup of tea, instead being packaged up ready for lucky dogs to enjoy!
Jo and Connor – who has 22q Deletion Syndrome – established Bark n Pawz in August 2022. The pair make and distribute homemade pet treats, catering for allergies, dietary requirements and even textural preferences for those pets who are long in the tooth.
Connor enjoys cooking – “Mainly baking biscuits, not anything healthy!” laughs Jo – and is a bit of an animal whisperer. As a result of the 22q deletion, and Connor’s personal set of symptoms, which include dyspraxia – a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes his speech harder to understand – and autism spectrum disorder, he will always need supported employment. Currently in his final year of schooling, he and Jo were looking for something for him to do that would work in with his abilities and interests.
Cruising the streets of Subiaco one day and noticing the pampered pooches in their designer gear, Jo realised there might be a market there combining Connor’s interests.
“He looked at me like it was crazy,” said Jo. “But thought about it and then away we went!”
Initially turning to YouTube for recipe inspiration, some fail-safe peanut butter treats were created and tested on the pets of family and friends. Orders started rolling in and you can now regularly find Bark n Pawz at markets and find their products on the counter of IGAs, produce stores, service stations and more around the region. In addition to the baked dog treats, a range of gummies are available and cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs and birds are also catered for.
22q Deletion Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a microdeletion on the long arm of the 22q chromosome. Despite being the second most common genetic disorder after Down’s Syndrome, it is largely unheard of and comes with a raft of potential afflictions – from heart defects, cleft palate, and kidney issues to developmental delays, obsessive compulsive disorder and autism spectrum disorder. No two individuals with 22q will have the same set of symptoms.
“When I was pregnant, I knew there was something going on,” said Jo. “I was a high risk for Down Syndrome, so had an amniocentesis – he had issues with his kidney and bladder, but they were all fixable post-birth so we weren’t too worried.
“Once Connor was here, he wasn’t able to feed and had to be tube fed for a couple of months. You couldn’t put him on his tummy because he’d go blue, and he was always sick with chest infections and pneumonia.
“When he was 2 and a half, they started looking at chromosomal disorders. We kept pushing and finally someone from the genetics department at King Edward Hospital put all the pieces together and said, ‘I think it’s 22q.’
“The senior speech pathologist at Princess Margaret Hospital echoed those concerns and so Connor was finally tested for that.
“It came back that he did have 22q and I thought, ‘Excellent. We have a starting point.’”
Despite the extra workload for herself (Jo is mostly on baking duties, while Connor takes care of weighing, bagging and labelling), the personal growth she has seen in Connor has made it all worthwhile.
“He’s loving it,” she says. “Connor gets so much out of it – the increase in confidence and ability to interact with people, it is huge.
“He’s never going to be academic and that’s fine – but there are things he can do; he just needs the opportunity to do it.
“To me, if we can work on his confidence and keep him healthy and happy, the sky is the limit.”
While his mum is aiming for the sky, Connor has some more specific goals – such as being part of the world’s largest e-commerce platform! He says, “My idea is to be on Amazon with my dog treats.”
He also has a clear vision for what his future workforce should look like: “I want to make teams – one team on dogs, one team on cats etc,” he said. “And they will be people who are the same as me.”
Jo says, “He wants to give everybody a shot – everybody has got the ability; they just need a chance.”
While the newly uncovered entrepreneurial skills and increased confidence dealing with people are great, Connor hasn’t lost sight of his original vision for Bark n Pawz. When asked what is the best thing about running the business, his answer is simple – and relatable: “I get to pat dogs.”
You can find Bark n Pawz products at Bullsbrook IGA, Bullsbrook Produce, Tailwinds Cafe and they will be at the Aveley Community Festival on Saturday 22 April. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @barknpawz to keep up to date.