Darius Brown, 12, has two big passions: bow ties and animals. So the Newark, New Jersey, resident helps shelter pets dress for success by donating his one-of-a-kind bow ties to rescue organizations across the country.
“It helps the dog look noticeable, very attractive,” he told TODAY. “It helps them find a forever, loving home … I love everything about dogs and cats.”
The labor of love started as a way to help Darius himself. He was diagnosed with speech delay, comprehension delay and fine motor skills delay when he was 2 years old. His mother, Joy Brown, 40, and sister Dazhai Brown-Shearz, 22, have diligently encouraged his development.
Darius had a major breakthrough at age 8, when Brown-Shearz was in cosmetology school and making hair ribbons for little girls.
“With his fine motor skills, he wasn’t able to really use his hands well — tying a shoe was challenging,” she told TODAY. “My mother and I came up with the idea that if he helped us with things like prepping the ribbon or cutting it, and sewing fabric together, it would help him. And it did — it worked!”
Darius started fashioning bow ties and wearing them every day. People would stop him on the street and ask where they could buy one. So he started the custom bow tie company Beaux & Paws to make bow ties for people and their pets.
“I wear bow ties all the time,” Darius said. “Literally everywhere I go, I wear a bow tie.”
Like many Americans, Darius was deeply affected by the devastation wreaked by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. When he learned about displaced dogs and cats flooding shelters — and that they would be euthanized if they weren’t adopted — he knew he needed to do something.
Darius started by donating bow ties to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Since then, he’s donated hundreds of ties to shelters across the country and is fundraising in order to donate even more.
When people purchase ties from Beaux & Paws, it helps him purchase materials for bow ties he will donate — plus, he donates a portion of every sale to the ASPCA. Good Samaritans have started donating fabric and supplies to Darius as well.
“The donations help a lot because we were just digging in our pockets, buying the fabric ourselves,” his mother told TODAY.
Darius has won numerous awards for his efforts to help homeless pets and even received a personal letter from former President Barack Obama commending him for his work. (“That was just overwhelming!” Darius enthused.)
Now, he’s fundraising to increase bow tie production and for travel this summer to at least five different states and as many shelters as he can to personally donate bow ties and help with adoption events.
His mom couldn’t be prouder. Though online trolls can post mean-spirited messages on social media — “Sir” Darius Brown has more than 45,500 Instagram followers — her son doesn’t let it deter him.
“We’re definitely very proud of Darius. He’s overcome a lot and he’s still on his journey of overcoming a lot of things,” Brown said. “He just keeps going for what he believes in.”
Darius is incredibly grateful for his family.
“Mom is very supportive and she always sacrifices for me. And my sister, she sacrificed two years of her college so that she could help my mother because my mother is a single mother and my sister knew it was going to be hard for her,” he said. “I just owe everything to my sister and my mom.”
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: