There is a passion for pets at The Arc. Some participants have their own dogs, or navigate the world with the aid of a service animal. Some, such as Tom Cochran, who breaks into a big smile when he talks about his volunteer job walking dogs at the Idaho Humane Society, have found meaningful work in the animal world.
So when Arc staffers were looking for business opportunities to help support the nonprofits work, it made sense to look to the hounds.
The Arc is now home to its own in-house cottage industry: BArc Bones. Sales of peanut butter-flavored dog biscuits $5 to $6 a bag at various Treasure Valley retailers raise money for The Arcs programs.
The organization, which supports itself through donations and some funding from the state and private sources, provides vocational and life-skills training for men and women with disabilities. Between 500 and 600 people take part in Arc programs each year.
Barc Bones are providing work experience for about 30 men and women who can earn up to $10.84 an hour.
A LONG LABOR
Arc staffers came up with the idea for the biscuits back in 2006. Getting them to market has been a long process that included meeting with small- business advisers and refining the product.
Nicole Lang, director of programs at The Arc, bought a book about starting a dog biscuit home business. Staffers and participants started experimenting with recipes, and they competed for and won a $5,000 grant from a local nonprofit that was closing its doors. That money helped upgrade The Arcs kitchen and buy equipment, including a machine to roll out the biscuit dough.
The Idaho Humane Society started selling the biscuits about a year ago. Since then, more retailers have begun carrying them.
The Arc also is in the process of creating a website for online sales. The organization often sets up booths at local events, and the bakers are scrambling to get enough biscuits made in time for the Idaho Humane Societys See Spot Walk event on Saturday.
The biscuits have begun to bring in a modest profit, in part because of the public events. At least 50 bags typically sell at those, said Lang.
BArc Bones give Arc participants exposure to the public and to the pet world, where many would like to work one day, said Lang. The skills theyre learning baking, packaging are also transferable.
This is especially important at a time when the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly 14 percent, according to numbers released in August from the U.S. Department of Labors Office of Disability Employment Policy. The unemployment rate for the overall population is 8 percent.
ALL NATURAL, HUMAN TESTED
On any given day, Arc participants are rolling out dough and pressing biscuits by hand. Others are bagging them up and handling labeling, the last prep work to get the treats ready to sell.
Not surprisingly, offices at The Arc, which opened in 1956 on the Boise Bench, are often redolent with the aroma of peanut butter.
Arc participant Sherrie Williams has had other jobs in the community, working as a janitor and a dishwasher at local hotels and senior centers. These days, she helps with BArc Bones. That includes placing labels by hand with perfect alignment on the bags.
The labels feature a cartoon rendition of Luci, Langs recently departed dog, official spokesdog for the project. Luci will live on, akin to Betty Crocker, said Lang.
On Tuesday, Arc participant David Bunch, sporting rainbow suspenders, was shredding paper for another burgeoning in-house industry: papier-maché fire logs. But hes become an enthusiastic BArc Bones salesman. Whenever a booth is set up at an event, Bunch is out front, luring buyers. His brothers dogs, Sam and Cincinnati, have confirmed that the biscuits are delicious, he said.
The biscuits are made of peanut butter, wheat flour and water. Theyre even tested on humans.
That was a suggestion from the University of Idaho test kitchen that we sample them ourselves to make sure theyre fresh, Lang said.
Anna Webb: 377-6431