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A Kid's First Business Venture Is a Family Affair

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I'm on a retreat at a Trappist Monastery, in a reflective mood and with lots of time on my hands. One of my intentions is to put in some serious time towards my book on women, emotion and money. I decide to browse through the documents saved on my computer, wondering what might be there. Maybe I'm procrastinating or maybe I'm looking for inspiration. I'm not sure which it is -- maybe it's both.

We accumulate stuff in our computers, letting it sit there like so much junk in our garages. Most times it's just that -- junk. But every now and then we find a treasure, which is stashed away and forgotten.

So it was with joy and warm memories that I stumbled upon his article written about my son, many years ago. I had forgotten about it and what our life was like back then. I forgot what a wonderful life we lived and how I built our day-to-day existence around him.

My son is 16 years old now and when I look at him, my heart is full of pride at the wonderful young man he is turning out to be. But it's so bittersweet as I realize I'm losing the little boy whom I held so close to me. He is launching into this world, on his own and independent.

I'd like to share this story of Zachary, which was written about him in our local newspaper in Toronto. There is a lesson for all of us in this story.

This is the story of hand-drawn flyers posted all around the Bloor West neighbourhood. Many of them had later been pulled down by passerby -- perhaps they were concerned about the appearance of a postered telephone pole in their neighbourhood. Perhaps they were worried about trash on their streets. One thing is for certain; they never met seven-year-old Zachary, the boy behind the flyer and a self-made Bloor West businessman.

Zachary entered my world when my husband, infant son and I were walking to our weekly date at the Sunset Grill on Bloor Street. We noticed a flyer on a pole. Scrawled in a child's hand were the words "Zachary's small pet business" accompanied by a drawing of a boy with glasses standing beside a hamster cage.

We called the moment we got home. "We're calling for the small pet care business," I told the young voice on the other end of the line.
"Yes," Zachary replied, serious and assured.
"Can you walk our two small dogs?"
"Yes," he answered.
"When can you come?"
"I'll be there in five minutes," he said, before abruptly ending the call.

I redialed his number.
"Hello again Zachary. Uh, would you like our address?"
"Yes," he replied in that same confident tone.

Five minutes later, a blonde boy with five missing teeth knocked on our door. He was accompanied by his mom, Deborah, and their lab, Natalie.

Although Zachary had intended for his business to cater to very small animals like his hamster Harvey II, he saw in us an opportunity for his business to expand and agreed to take our two dogs out.

"How much do you charge?" I asked.
"Whatever you want to give," he replied with a big toothy smile.
"But what if I only give you a penny?"
"That's OK", he said, "but not very fair."

We agreed on terms and our dogs were soon leading him down the street.

When he returned that first day, he had plenty to share: "Your dog pooped three times," he announced.

My husband and I laughed about that all night.

We've had Zachary back to walk the dogs several times. I was so taken by his efforts, that I asked his mom if I could interview him. When I visited their home, I walked into a child's wonderland. Two life-sized paper-mache people sat on the front porch. Zachary's art adorned every square inch of wall space, and a huge kite was parked in the living room.

"Would you like HarveyII to crawl up your leg?" the third grader asked between my questions. I declined, but allowed HarveyII to crawl in my hair.

Zachary told me he started his small pet care business because he saw a similar venture on an episode of Arthur, a popular children's program. His mom helped him photocopy and post his signs. Half of his earnings go to the Dorothy Ley Hospice on Dundas Street West. Zachary has been taught that he needs to contribute to society. For instance, he regularly sets up a lemonade stand, with all proceeds going to the charity of his choice. He has made "all together 20 dollars."

When asked how his small pet business is going he replies, "pretty good." "How many clients do you have?" I ask. "Ummmmm...One. You."

Not only did Zachary's entrepreneurial and creative spirit impress me. But so did his business partner -- his mom.

She is a mom who will let her son charge whatever he wants, who will plaster the neighbourhood with posters and who will make his art the centrepiece of her home. She's a mom who shows up with Zachary at 7 a.m. for a rainy dog walk and lets him donate to the charity of his choice. She is
the type of person who will invite a neighbour like me into her home to meet an extraordinary boy.

Hopefully the next time someone feels the need to clean up a telephone pole in their neighbourhood, they'll pause and think about the story behind the childlike scrawl. Maybe they will think about Zachary and his mom. Maybe they'll smile at a child's unlimited imagination. Maybe they'll call.

Heather McDonald is a resident of Bloor West and patron of Zachary's Small Pet Business