Rare disability doesn't stop Beausejour woman from running thriving pet business

A rare syndrome that makes it difficult to communicate hasn’t held Sydney Deneka back from starting her own business and helping animals in a big way.

Sydney Deneka handcrafts personalized blankets for pets, then donates part of proceeds to animal shelters

Sydney Deneka makes and sells personalised fleece blankets for pets and babies, donating part of the proceeds to animals in need. (Facebook/Kozy Kritters by Sydney )

A rare syndrome that makes it difficult to communicate hasn't held a Beausejour woman back from starting her own business and helping animals in a big way.  

Sydney Deneka runs Kozy Kritters, which sells personalized fleece blankets for pets and babies.

The 21-year-old has a rare developmental disability, Coffin-Siris syndrome, which affects her hearing, vision and cognitive ability.

Sydney Deneka with her parents at CBC Manitoba. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

But that didn't discourage Deneka, who started making the blankets when she was 14 with the help of her mother, Heather, at their home in Beausejour, about 50 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

"When she was born, we didn't know what the outcome would be but we did set goals for her," Heather Deneka told CBC Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai.

"We were being realistic but we also wanted her to do something, and so for her having her own business and giving back makes us feel very proud."

Each blanket Sydney and Heather make is one-of-a-kind, with Sydney picking out the fleece and design for each pet. She also makes donations based on sales of her crafts to local animal shelters. So far, she's raised about $2,800.

Each blanket is embroidered with the pet or baby's name and a personalised design. (Facebook/Kozy Kritters by Sydney )

It all started with a fundraiser for local animal shelters at her school. Sydney brought in the homemade blankets to sell, impressing her teachers, who thought it could be the start of a new venture for her.

She started using the embroidery machine at her school to put personalized designs on the fleece blankets. Soon, she had sold enough blankets to buy her own embroidery machine.

In 2015, she won the Just Watch Me contest sponsored by the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program, which promotes entrepreneurs with disabilities in the Prairies. That won her enough money to renovate part of her parents' home, where she lives, into a workspace and buy a back-up embroidery machine.

A portion of the proceeds from each blanket are donated back to animal shelters. Sydney has always been a big animal lover, her mother says. (Facebook/Kozy Kritters by Sydney )

"We were finding she needed a backup machine she was so busy," Heather said.

The town of Beausejour has been very supportive of Sydney, where Heather says her daughter has become a local celebrity.

Sydney makes the blankets at home with some help from her family. (Facebook/Kozy Kritters by Sydney )

"When we go downtown to shop, sometimes I don't even know the people who say hi to her," she says.

"I don't think she knows what a big deal it is. We're pretty proud of her."

With files from Weekend Morning Show