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How this teen started an organic pet treat company when she was 8

A lifelong love of animals inspired Ava Dorsey to create Ava’s Pet Palace.
Courtesy Ava's Pet Palace
/ Source: TODAY

A young girl’s dream of treating animals like royalty has come true — thanks to lots of hard work.

When Ava Dorsey was 6 years old, she drew a picture of a palace. She filled each room not with fancy furniture and pampered princesses, but words like “Pet Restaurant,” “Animal Food” and “Animal Accessories.”

She’d drafted her first business plan.

"Job plan" created by Ava Dorsey at age 6
Ava Dorsey drew up her first "job plan" for Ava's Pet Palace when she was just 6 years old.Courtesy of Ava's Pet Palace

“I’ve always loved animals and had a passion for helping them and just wanting to be around them,” the Chicago entrepreneur, now 13, told TODAY. “And as I was starting to get older, I was noticing that the food that we were feeding our family dog — his name was Rock — had a lot of bad ingredients and just a lot of ingredients in general. I also noticed that we were eating good. So I thought, ‘Why aren’t our pets eating just as well as we are?’”

So in 2016 at the ripe old age of 8, Ava launched Ava’s Pet Palace, an organic treat company for dogs and cats. She started by researching safe, healthy ingredients for pets and developing recipes in the kitchen.

Ava Dorsey develops pet treats at age 8
At age 8, Chicago resident Ava Dorsey started developing recipes for organic pet treats in her family kitchen.Courtesy of Ava's Pet Palace

Her rescue dog, Rock, and orange cat, Pumpkin, proved to be more-than-willing taste testers. Soon it was time to start sharing treats with neighbors and going to local pet shows to market her products.

“Sometimes I wasn’t taken seriously because I was a kid there — 9 years old, selling my treats,” she said. “I was very nervous. I’m a shy person in general so my mom had to do a lot of the talking, and my first few shows, my cousin would come and help me because she was more confident. It helped me talk to more people. I just kept going and definitely got more confident.”

Ava Dorsey pitches her business in February 2020
Ava Dorsey pitches her business in front of 700 people at Chicago's L.E.G.A.C.Y. Awards Gala, where she was named 2020 Young Entrepreneur of the Year and awarded $15,000 in cash and prizes.Courtesy of Ava's Pet Palace

That tenacity paid off. Today, she sells her treats to pet lovers in all 50 states, filling hundreds of orders a week with the help of her mom, Ina Jones, who left a career in commercial real estate to work for Ava’s Pet Palace full time.

“There’s nothing more important than my children,” Jones told TODAY. “Their dreams are my dreams, right? I’m watching Ava do what she loves and being able to support that in any way that I can. … I’m extremely proud of her.”

Ava said her entire family, which includes her parents and two younger sisters, have been very supportive. She’s also found a supportive online community, with over 18,000 Instagram followers who enjoy her posts about her current pets: Pumpkin, also now 13, and her 5-year-old miniature pinscher mix, Lacy.

“We fostered her, but I fell in love with Lacy and just had to adopt her,” she said. “Lacy is a very laid-back dog.”

Ava Dorsey and her dog, Lacy
Ava Dorsey's rescue dog, Lacy, loves testing treats for Ava's Pet Palace. "She does tricks the fastest for the salmon chips," Ava told TODAY.Courtesy of Ava's Pet Palace

Ava donates treats from Ava’s Pet Palace to rescue organizations — which have in turn supported her business — including One Tail at a Time and Magnificent Mutts and Meows Rescue, the nonprofit that saved Lacy. Prior to the pandemic, she attended adoption events to help out with the dogs and meet potential adopters.

The “kidpreneur” loves dogs and cats because they offer unconditional love.

“I just love how sweet they are and how they snuggle with you and everything about them,” she said.

Ava Dorsey and her cat, Pumpkin
Ava Dorsey hopes other "kidpreneurs" will follow their dreams and work to make them come true.Courtesy of Ava's Pet Palace

Though Ava just graduated from eighth grade, she’s already looking to the future. She plans to keep growing her business and brand, and after college she hopes to move Ava’s Pet Palace out of the family kitchen and into a physical building reminiscent of the castle she dreamed of as a kid — one with all sorts of amenities that can help pets.

Her advice to other children and teens who want to follow their passion and start a company is simple.

“Just go for it. Don’t let anything stop you,” she said. “There will be a lot of bumps in the road, but if it’s something that you love doing and want to continue doing and are passionate about, it’s about working past all those bumps and looking straight ahead.”