From Cage to Comfort: Dog-Lover Finds Homes for Thousands of Shelter Pups

Daily Point of Light # 7822 May 29, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Roman McConn. Read his story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

In 2015, Roman McConn was three years old and living with his family in Texas. His passion for animals–dogs in particular–was evident early on, but he was moved to action one day as he and his parents were leaving a local PetSmart. Roman saw dogs in kennels lined up out front and asked his parents why they were there.

“They said that they get them out there to advertise for them, because if they can’t find homes, they have to go to heaven. In my three-year-old mind, I thought, well let’s just get the homes ourselves,” Roman recalls.

That was the beginning of a path that would change all of their lives. For his fourth birthday, Roman asked for donations and gifts for their local animal shelter and began visiting soon after. When he turned five and moved to Washington State, he couldn’t get those Texas dogs off his mind. So, with the help of his dedicated parents, the family founded Project Freedom Ride to advocate for the adoption of unwanted or abandoned dogs and transport them to loving families across the US.

Rowan holds Brooke, a dog from the Edgefield, SC shelter, at an adoption event he helped host at the Hollywood Feed in Augusta, GA.

Roman is the face of it all, but he also makes thoughtful videos with each dog at the shelter, highlighting their best qualities for potential adopters on Petfinder and social media. Jen, Roman’s mom, puts in lots of late-night and early-morning volunteer hours on top of her full-time job to keep things running smoothly.

“I get to do the fun part. My mom has to do all the paperwork and the computer work: the boring business end and adult stuff,” Roman jokes.
After outsourcing the transport portion for a few years, they purchased a van and hired drivers in order to have more control over the treatment of dogs in transit. Once a month, dogs are moved from high-kill areas in Texas and Georgia to northern states with fewer homeless dogs. Jeff, Roman’s dad, and a fellow veteran manned the vehicle for multiple years. Jen tracks the van’s progress with updates for those waiting to meet their new furry friends. PFR is truly a family effort.

Roman, himself, has 10 dogs at home right now. Seven are permanent residents, and three are just passing through as fosters — something that happens on a regular basis. In fact, four of the forever dogs are foster fails.

“We got them with the plan to hand them along to someone else, but they had lived with us for so long, we couldn’t do that to them,” Roman says.

“He’s a very unusual 12-year-old boy in the sense that he’s always been willing to give to the cause,” family friend Brenda McGarr effuses. “He loves the old dog, the sick dog, the three-legged dog, the one-eyed dog. One of his personal dogs is deaf. He just has a heart for the underdog.”

From its inception, Project Freedom Ride has placed nearly 5,000 dogs, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2018, Roman was named ASPCA’s Kid of the Year. And nearly five years ago, while volunteering in a local shelter, Brenda recognized Roman from his appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Roman and Jen were handing out ice cream cups to the dogs, so she joined them and has since become close.

(Back left to right) Jeff, Roman’s dad; Dennis, a PFR driver; Brenda, a board member, foster and volunteer; (front left to right) Jen, Roman’s mom; Friday, a dog waiting for adoption; Roman; Rexanne, a volunteer; Norie, Rexanne’s granddaughter; and Sarah, another PFR driver, to a Bark in the Park Day at the Augusta Greenjackets stadium. On these days, dogs can see a game for free.

“I’ve become more like an aunt to him than anything, because they don’t have any family in this area, and I don’t either. So, we sort of just adopted each other,” Brenda says, noting that Roman and Jen convinced her to remodel a room in her home that has allowed her to foster 29 pups over the last two years.

Roman visits the shelter twice a month and helps with promotional and adoption events. Often, he simply assists with the daily grind.
“Sometimes, we’ll go to a shelter and we know all we’ll be doing is cleaning or bathing or bringing in food that’s been donated, basically trying to help out wherever we can,” he says.

His passion captured more than one television network’s attention. In 2022, Roman and Jen moved back to Texas temporarily to shoot Roman to the Rescue for Disney+, a show that follows him through the process of rescue to adoption assisted by various Disney stars. He’s been featured in many media outlets for his dedication to the work and was even able to return to Ellen during her final season.

All of the accolades have come with increased visibility, a benefit when an organization is run from donations and the occasional big grant or event partnership. Things were moving right along when the COVID pandemic hit and had an unexpected effect.

“A lot more people were adopting because they were at home. But a big problem now—and the last year or so—is people going back to work and realizing that the puppy they got during quarantine is no longer a puppy. He or she is now a two-year-old with bad behavior,” Roman explains.

Roman does some deep cleaning at the North Augusta, SC shelter after Project Freedom Ride donated 1400 lbs of food .(

People are returning dogs, and PFR is scrambling to get them placed. To avoid the issues that might cause adopters second thoughts, Roman suggests investing in basic training to eliminate behavior problems. Patience is key.

Like everything, the work has its ups and downs. Sometimes, despite everything, shelters still have to put dogs down.
“It’s really sad, and that definitely can be hard sometimes. But eventually you just have to toughen up so you can try your hardest to prevent that as much as you can,” Roman says.

On the best days, people send pictures of the dogs enjoying their new life. Many of them have come a long way, and Roman finds satisfaction in seeing their happiness.

“Humans are the reason dogs are in shelters, so I feel like we owe it to them to help fix the problems we’ve created,” he states. “They deserve great lives.”

Roman is a hard worker full of compassion. His efforts have brought joy to a lot of dogs and the humans who love them.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Roman? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Kristin Park