MERIDEN — Donald Dandelski’s career path definitely doesn’t follow a straight line. Like the animals he traps, it’s meandered a bit over the years, but he took on wildlife removal as a full-time job. Lately, he’s also been delving into the world of soda — Trapper Don’s Old Time Soda is available at several restaurants in the area.
He just popped into the soda business while on the job at a client, Avery’s Soda.
“I have done nuisance wildlife removal for 32 years in Meriden serving surrounding towns,” said Dandelski, owner of D&D Wildlife Control. “Avery’s Soda (in New Britain) called for the first time about three years ago because they had a problem with raccoons in the building.”
Then he returned again.
“We also had issues with a scurry of squirrels and he came back out to help us relocate them as well,” Avery’s general manager Rob Metz said.
Just like a regular day in the office, Dandelski set up a couple of traps and caught them.
“I usually charge for my services, but a little light bulb went off and I said, ‘Hey you owe me this much, how much for some sodas?’” Dandelski said. “What better advertisement than a soda with my company logo on it?”
Metz, who was the owner at the time, came up with D&D Wildlife Control soda and put a racoon, some squirrels and a couple bats on the label and gave Dandelski a couple of cases. Dandelski handed them out to friends and family with his company name and telephone number.
“Mike (Mingolello) was one of the first ones. I stopped by at Wise Guys and I gave him a couple,” Dandelski said. “Next thing you know a few hours later he called me up and asked, ‘you got any more? People asked to buy them so I sold them.’ I brought him what I had and then went back to Avery’s and said, why don’t we change the label and the name to Trapper Don’s Soda.”
Dandelski had been on Chaz and AJ in the morning on WPLR quite a bit and they called him Trapper Don and the name just stuck.
“I said what do you want to do for a picture? So Rob went on the internet and emailed me the picture that’s on there now,” Dandelski said. “That picture was all over the place because at the time I was helping the state do a bobcat study. A lot of the trappers were. And Rob said this is the best picture.”Flavor names
The next step was clever soda names for the 12 different flavors.
“The fun part was coming up with the names, that’s a bit of a collaborative effort. We go back and forth,” Metz said. “But, they’re all wildlife-themed and they’re kind of fun.”
“So for instance the Birch Beer is Sassy Squirrel; Black Raspberry is Bobcat Berry; and Orange is Otter Orange,” Dandelski said. “The Yellow Pineapple that was a tough one but someone came up with Porcupine Pineapple; Lemon Lime we wanted to do Mountain Lion Dew, but one printing and we said no we don’t want a cease and desist so we went with Mountain Lion Lemon; and one of the cutest ones which really isn’t an animal but it went is Sasquatch Strawberry.”
Dandelski says Beaver Blue, which is a light blue color, is a fan favorite for the kids.
“It’s the one soda that I have noticed turns their lips and tongue blue,” he added. “And they love it.”
The part of the name “Old Time Soda” comes from Avery’s being an old fashion or old time soda.
“I get people who say it is almost flat, no you have to understand it’s made with very low carbon,” Dandelski said. “It was made for flavor.”
Trapper Don’s Old Time Soda is available at One Eyed Willy’s Seafood Shack in Meriden, Andrea’s in Meriden, and American Steamed Cheeseburgers in Wallingford.
“I ran into Kevin (owner of K Lamay’s) and I said just the man I wanted to see. He looked in the truck and I had a case I was bringing inside (One Eyed Willy’s),” Dandelski said. “And he looked in and said, ‘Oh Trapper Don’s Soda, what do you have? Bring me a case.’ So they will now be carrying Birch Beer, Bobcat Berry and Beaver Blue.”
Dandelski hopes to have Trapper Don’s Old Time Soda for sale in 12 to 15 businesses by the end of June.
“It’s very hard. I’m just a middle man and mine can be more expensive than another brand so I’ve had some resistance,” Dandelski said. “But I do tell them if you put it out it will sell.”
Metz says that Dandelski’s working relationship with Avery’s was an evolution.
“It has a few iterations and we’re where we are now,” he added. “But things are going well and seems to be going well for him.”
Though Dandelski enjoys selling his Trapper Don’s Old Time Sodas he shared that he doesn’t have the time to make it or want to go through the regulations of making soda.
“I never saw myself getting into the soda industry,” Dandelski said. “But it’s fun. I get a lot of good vibes from people enjoying it and it gets my name out there.”Love of wildlife
Dandelski was born in Wallingford and his family moved to South Meriden in 1977. He is also a father and grandfather.
“At 7 or 8 years old when I learned how to read I would be reading wildlife books,” Dandelski said. “My friends and I also played a lot in the woods, in the streams, riding our bikes, making forts, and fishing.”
Dandelski started fur trapping in 1983 and as he got older got into hunting as well.
“I used to read trapping and hunting books and magazines and I kind of knew at that age I wanted to be a trapper and hunter,” Dandelski said. “It’s pretty cool because now it’s what I do for a living.”
He graduated from Platt High School and took a few courses through Middlesex Community College. In high school he worked at a pizza shop and movie theater. Throughout his life he also worked for Marlin Firearms in North Haven, framed houses, cut trees and installed drop ceilings.
“I started doing wildlife removal part-time and then one day I just went full time,” Dandelski said. “It’s been up and down, good times, bad times.”
Dandelski owns D&D Wildlife Control, is a state instructor for archery, a state instructor for trapping, and a certified beaver trapper for the state of Connecticut. He’s also in the process of getting his firearm hunter safety certification to teach people how to hunt.
“I can’t say I lived a perfect life, but I’ve lived a happy life and I thank everyone for their support,” Dandelski said.
Dandelski can be found online at https://www.wildliferemovalct.com.