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Creature comforts: Cayuga County teen starts animal-themed business
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Creature comforts: Cayuga County teen starts animal-themed business

AURELIUS — Zachariah Ehrentraut doesn't just like animals — he's a walking encyclopedia of creature facts.

His mother, Julie Ehrentraut, said Zachariah, 13, is constantly educating her with a steady stream of tidbits about wildlife. Speaking with The Citizen at Fingerlakes Mall in Aurelius earlier this month, he used his words sparingly, and uttered them softly, until the conversation turned to the beasts he adores. When mentioning a specific kind of turtle, explaining the thickness of a rhino's skin or talking about elephants, Zachariah spoke without hesitation, and with a smile on his face. He had his stuffed honey badger, which he named Claws, by his side.

Wild Witness Gear, the business Zachariah started this summer, combines his love for animals with his other favorite thing: the Bible. Zachariah, of Locke, said he wants to inspire people and help them through the items his business will produce, which use the characteristics of animals to reflect someone's personality. Julie said the goal of the business is to give people "hope and purpose beyond what they hear and think other people say about them, or even what you think about yourself."

"What you say about yourself isn't always true, how you see yourself isn't how God sees you," she continued.

One characteristic Zachariah and Julie emphasize with Wild Witness Gear is leadership, which they said is reflected by the elephant. Featured on the first item the business offers, the elephant is able to use its trunk to smell and find water during the dry season, Zachariah said, so other animals follow it. Every shirt comes with a tag featuring a picture of that animal, a description of the characteristics it represents and a Bible passage. An upcoming design features the honey badger, which is meant to reflect fearlessness, Julie said.

Zachariah, who is on the autism spectrum, was homeschooled before attending public school for a few years and is now homeschooled again. At school, he said, he saw his fellow students feel defeated and try to fit in. So he wants Wild Witness Gear to "help kids learn their true identity" as people, he said.

Zachariah and Julie debuted the business's first shirt, which includes a water marble image of an elephant Zachariah made himself, at the Aurelius mall in late November. They registered the business with the county over the summer, Julie said, because they feel the venture won't stay small for long. 

Julie, who also owns the business Mizu Marbling Art, said God told her to help Zachariah start the business. She said she questioned the timing.

"I'm like, 'OK, why? Why him?' And he said, 'Because I'm going to use the type of person who most people don't think can be used," she said.

Julie feels her son has leadership qualities despite being on the autism spectrum, saying he is unafraid to point out when someone is being mistreated and quick to help out those in need. 

The Ehrentrauts said they are keeping the future in mind, as they have nine animal designs so far and plan to expand to items other than shirts. They also plan to sell their items at fairs, festivals and other events. Zachariah said he wants young people to "not feel defeated and don't feel like they're losing, because God's with them all the time."

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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