He gave up getting birthday presents in order to donate items to his local shelter.
When Nico Barillas, a little boy who lives in Texas, was going to turn 9, his parents decided to ask him what he wanted for his birthday so they could tell his party guests ahead of time. Nico has Down Syndrome and is mostly nonverbal, so he relies on an iPad app to get his messages across. When his parents approached him about gifts, Nico kept tapping “dog toys” over and over on the app.
“We thought, ‘That’s weird, we have a million toys for our own dogs,'” Veronica Barillas, Nico’s mom, told The Dodo.
The family has two rescue dogs and one cat, and Nico loves them dearly, but Veronica and Marty, Nico’s dad, were really confused about his request for dog toys. After further prodding and more specific questions, Nico finally tapped out something that his parents understood.
“Dog toys for all dogs,” he tapped on his iPad.
“He’s always had this huge love for dogs,” Veronica said, “So we said, ‘You want to give them to the puppies who don’t have homes?’ And he responded, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes,’ on his iPad.”
His parents set to work on making his invitations and buying decorations—which were mostly dog-themed—and informed his guests via invitation that Nico would be collecting supplies for a local animal shelter and that his friends should bring things to donate rather than birthday gifts.
At the age of 9, most kids want as many toys as they can get, especially because many watch tons of television that advertise all kinds of toys every few minutes. It’s so selfless and adorable that Nico chose to help out other animals rather than himself on a day that is supposed to solely be about him, and at such a young age. When the RSVPs for his party started rolling in, it appeared that Nico inspired his classmates to not only bring a donation but to do something similar for their own parties in the future.
“It was so heartwarming, the excitement it built with the kids,” Marty told The Dodo. “You can just sense they knew it was different. They are actually giving something to help these pets. They embraced it. The excitement went from the children to the parents, too. Now they keep telling us what a great idea it was.”
Nico and his friends had a great time at the party and the family excitedly opened the gifts once they got home and found that everyone had pitched in for a great cause. Amongst the presents were leashes, toys, treats, and bags of dog food, which Marty said Nico was more excited about opening than he is with his Christmas presents. The family donated the items to Addicus’ Legacy, a rescue organization that has saved hundreds of dogs from high kill shelters in Texas.
The 9-year-old has always had an affinity with animals and from the time he was born could be seen cuddling alongside their dogs and cat, who rarely left his side. Veronica also said that their neighbor has very skittish, formerly feral cats that only let Nico pet them, as though they know that he is trustworthy and made of pure love.
“We read these stories about Down syndrome kids being successful,” Veronica said. “I think, the way he is around animals, rescue is going to be his path.”
His family believes that his close relationship with animals is innate and that, despite his inability to talk to humans, he is able to communicate with these other beings in a way that most humans can’t. No matter what path he chooses, it’s awesome what Nico did for animals on his birthday and hopefully his idea will inspire others to do the same.