This article appears in the August issue of 400 Life magazine.
When Heather Nicol came across a box of kittens just on the other side of her family’s fence, her son, Jonathan, reacted in much the same way any 9-year-old boy would — he absolutely begged her to keep one.
With already two dogs and a sugar glider to take care of, Heather and her husband were not looking to bring a new animal into the house. They ended up sitting down and writing out a list of pros and cons, the cons column filling up fast with litter boxes, vet bills, grooming, toys and more.
Determined to keep the little kitten, Jonathan ended up striking a deal with his parents. He could keep the cat if he took care of the entire cons list — including vet bills. He immediately started thinking of ways that he could earn money so that he could keep his white and grey kitten, who he later named Gracie.
Jonathan finally figured it out later on when he and his family went out to buy cat toys for Gracie one day.
“Looking at stores and seeing how expensive they are, he’s like, ‘I can do way better for less money,’” Heather said.
He started to look up different ideas online for how to start making cat toys, and the small idea quickly turned into Fun 4 Felines, an online store that Jonathan and Heather started just a month ago to begin selling his cat toy creations.
Heather said that Jonathan has always held a special place in his heart for animals. Even when he was only 5, he started asking family and friends for donations to the Humane Society of Forsyth County instead of birthday gifts.
“I have enough toys and stuff,” he said.
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For his birthday every year, he and his family go to drop off all of the donations and take some time to play with the animals. He even got his Scouts troop involved, and they did a donation drive recently where they stood outside of Kroger and asked customers to donate what they could to the shelter.
With his mix of passion and love for animals and his natural entrepreneurial spirit, Heather said that Jonathan’s idea to make cat toys quickly sprouted into action. He started coming up with his own designs and ideas for toys, and he even learned how to sew.
“I literally read off the [sewing machine] manual and just learned all the techniques — and boom!” Jonathan said.
He started to make cat toys for Gracie and sell them to friends and family members in the area. He makes little novelty pillows, cork toys, mini catnip toys, tassels dipped in catnip tea, and more. All of his cork toys are also boiled in catnip tea.
“The corks open up, suck in the catnip, and then close back up when they dry,” Jonathan said. “And then they’re infused. Kitties love ’em.”
His family loved the toys and started to encourage him to start his own Facebook page, which is what eventually sparked the creation of Fun 4 Felines. After that, one of his family members who runs a cat rescue in Nebraska ended up sharing his Facebook page, and a popular page called Cat Crazy also shared his new online business.
“He started getting tons of orders,” Heather said.
Jonathan started mailing out toys for orders from other states and even other countries like the U.K. and Australia.
Now, Jonathan has had over 100 orders total, and he wants to continue to grow the business and get his toys out to cats who are going to love them. Even after paying for Gracie’s vet visits, he wants to use his profits from Fun 4 Felines to donate more to the Humane Society of Forsyth County.
“I thought I’m just going to sell some cat toys,” Jonathan said. “I didn’t know it was going to be a Facebook page, or official business, or selling to people in different countries. Crazy. But I love it, it’s what makes me happy right now.”
In the next few weeks, Jonathan is planning to open a pop-up shop in a new business in Halcyon called The Gibson Co., for him to sell some of his cat toys and get the word out about his new online shop.
Jonathan and Heather are planning on more orders coming in as they build up Fun 4 Felines, and as school is starting, Jonathan said that his grandparents are also going to start helping with the orders on one condition — they have to use his toy designs.
Even with school coming up, however, Jonathan said he is not worried about having time to take in orders and make toys.
“Sometimes it’s really stressing, but when I’m stressed in the morning, I wake up to Gracie — cute little fluff ball,” Jonathan said.
As Fun 4 Felines continues to grow, Jonathan is simply happy that he gets to make toys, support his little Gracie and give back to the shelter and animals in need.
“I love animals, and I would do anything for them,” Jonathan said.