Sepehr (Nili) Nilizadeh has always loved dogs.
Even though he’s never had a canine companion to call his own, the Coquitlam-based teen admits he has long had a soft spot for the particular type of furry friends.
“I really like dogs,” Nili says. “And I want to get a dog one day.”
That predilection for pups made it particularly hard for the now-15-year-old growing up in his home country of Iran, where Nili recalls dogs not being universally welcomed as everyday household pets.
“In Iran, it’s not really popular to own a dog,” Nili shares. “And it’s actually illegal to take your dog out for walks or for fun in general, which resulted in many, many homeless dogs in the city, many of which are getting harassed by people or getting hit by cars.”
In 2019, a judiciary ban was put in place in the country to stop the walking of dogs in public. The overarching discouragement of dog ownership, according to a New York Times article from 2019, has religious links — in Islam, dogs are viewed as ritually impure — along with the government’s desire to limit Western lifestyle influences.
That debate over dog ownership in the country has led to many dogs living on the streets, according to Nili, with shelters overrun with animals. A 2020 article in the New York Post chronicled how one shelter in Kerman, Iran. sees more than 2,000 dogs in need of care each day.
“I saw that they were getting harassed and it was not fun to watch. It was really sad,” he recalls. “And at the same time, there are some dog shelters who are trying to change this by giving these dogs shelter or food.
“But unfortunately, they often don’t have funds to expand their operation.”
After immigrating to Canada in 2017 with his parents and younger sister, Nili knew he wanted to find a way to give back to the dogs of Iran. In January 2021, the Pinetree Secondary Grade 10 student started Careme, a subscription box service that offers treats and toys for dogs.
“There are so many dogs there that need help. I wanted to do something about it,” Nili says for the motivation behind the startup. “And finally, a year ago, I came across this thing called dog subscription boxes. And it sounded like a really good opportunity to start a business and donate a percentage of its profits to homeless animals in developing countries.”
Offering single purchase and subscription dog boxes, Careme donates 15 per cent of each sale to shelters in Iran like Vafa, a non-profit non government group that operates two shelters in Hashtgerd and Qazvin.
Last summer, Careme offered a box that saw all profits donated to dog shelters in Iran, he says. It’s a larger donation push he’s proud of, and one that he plans to do again, noting how the exchange rate from Canadian to Iranian currency is beneficial for making a greater impact.
“It’s a lot of money. I can help a lot of dogs,” Nili says.
Nili handpacks the boxes, choosing treats and toys based on answers to a customized online questionnaire that identifies dog age, gender, chew preference, allergies and more.
“All of our boxes are customized to their dog’s liking,” Nili says. “You can expect to get treats, toys and accessories. When you fill out our form, it asks you how many treats and toys you would like to receive in each box. All of the toys and treats are made in the U.S. or Canada.”
Single-purchase boxes range in price from $55 to $62, with subscription boxes starting at $48.99. Available on the Careme website, careme.ca, Nili has also expanded the business to include Etsy and Amazon. The teen entrepreneur picks and packs the products, organizes the mailing, handles the brand’s social media and oversees the Careme customer service — with a little help from his parents too.
“It’s me. And my parents helping me,” he admits. “They supplied me with funds and helping me pack the boxes.”
While his parents are happy to help with his startup, Nili admits his inspiration and chosen philanthropy target did at first give them pause.
“They are actually surprised,” he admits with a laugh of when he first told his parents he wanted to dedicate Careme to dogs.
Currently boasting around 100 subscribers in North America, Nili’s ambition is to grow that number in the coming year — with an even grander goal set for the long-term.
“My goal right now is getting subscribers and hopefully, one day, opening my own (dog) shelter in Iran,” he says.
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