7-Year-Old Makes Stunning Move To Help Animals At His Local Shelter

For a dog lover, walking through an animal shelter knowing you can’t take home every single pooch there can be one of the worst feelings in the world. You want to do everything in your power to give the locked-up canines all the love you know they deserve.

Well, in Texas, one little boy felt exactly the same way — so he did something about it. When he was just four years old, the boy went with his mother to a kill shelter and was disheartened by what he saw. Determined to fix the situation, he and his mom organized an effort that would change the lives of an unbelievable number of both dogs and people!

At seven years old, Roman McConn could talk your ear off about Batman and pirates or run energetically around you on the soccer field. In some respects, you’d never suspect the cute, blond-haired kid has been changing the world since he was barely four.

Seattle Refined

One day Roman went with his mom Jen, left, to a kill shelter for dogs in their home state of Texas. They planned to adopt a dog. But Roman was confused…

In the shelter, Jen said, “he kept asking why [the dogs] were there.” And what could she tell her toddler? They were unwanted, abandoned, and awaiting something grizzly? She softened the blow, telling her son, “they’re looking for homes.”

Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

To Roman, that was a silly concept with a simple solution: Just find the dogs homes! That day, the duo adopted a lovely dog named Luna—their first of two adopted dogs—but that didn’t satisfy his interest in helping every single dog find a home.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-dog-shelter-at-capacity-20180111-story.html

That was how both Roman and Jen became heavily involved in the animal shelter. The two didn’t just clean out kennels and play with down dogs, either. Instead, they undertook a truly impressive project—and the results were unbelievable.

Naturally, Roman—who “was pretty much born loving pets,” according to his mother—made sure kenneled dogs were happy, sitting beside their cages and reading to them from his favorite books. But he knew that wouldn’t find them homes.

Seattle Refined

While Roman did his part, Jennifer made videos and took pictures of dogs in need of adoption, below. But her videos, she knew, needed extra spice. So she recruited Roman, who took center stage in the videos, highlighting what potential owners needed to know. For instance…

Roman showed off his “pal Sadie” in a more recent video that scored hundreds of shares on Facebook. “She’s super shy,” he said, “and she hasn’t been trained to walk on a leash, so her new owner needs to be really patient.” The video continued.

Project Freedom Ride / Facebook

“I can tell you [Sadie’s] super sweet,” he said. “But she really needs to be trained to walk on a leash [so she can] be a happy dog like all the other dogs.” You can just feel his love and connection with her and every other dog he showcased.

Project Freedom Ride / Facebook

Roman made special videos for every dog he could. He made a video for lovable Legend, left, a deaf dog; he even made a video for Candy, who lost an eye in an accident. But in 2016, Roman’s filmmaking and Jen’s volunteer work hit a snag.

Roman’s father, left, who served in the Navy, received orders to relocate overseas. Jen and Roman would have to move to Washington state to be a bit closer to him—and further from Texas kill shelters.

But after the move, Jen saw an opportunity. “The world for a dog, generally speaking,” she said, “was so much better up here in Washington than down there in Texas…People take them hiking and there’s stuff to do.”

She joked that she should start an Underground Railroad for dogs, referencing, of course, the 19th-century transportation network that snuck slaves from captivity to free states, illustrated below. But then, she thought, was that such a crazy idea?

That was when Jen founded Project Freedom Ride to bring dogs from kill shelters in Texas to loving families in the northwest. With the help of Roman, who kept on making videos representing the pooches, the duo brought 31 dogs from Texas to Washington!

Since 2016, Jen transported about 50 dogs per month from cages in Texas to loving arms in Washington. Donations alone covered the $11,000 price tag to transport a pooch. The “Underground Railroad” was in full swing—and for Jen, the payoff was huge.

Project Freedom Ride / Facebook

After watching a Roman-made video, potential owners “develop this bond and this love for a dog they’ve never even met,” Jen said. “Then when they have that moment where everything comes together, it’s very overwhelming for some of them.” Jen loved witnessing that first connection.

Project Freedom Ride / Facebook

Unbelievably, by mid-2018, Roman and Jen rescued 1,050 dogs from Texas kill shelters via their doggie Underground Railroad. And Jen knew it couldn’t have been done without Roman’s adorable videos. On Instagram, she wrote, “Roman has literally become the lifeblood of Project Freedom Ride.”

But Roman didn’t let the recognition go to his head. “It makes me feel happy saving all these dogs,” he said. “But it doesn’t just make me happy, I’m sure it makes all the dogs happy.” And it makes someone else happy, too.

Seattle Refined

All the way across the Pacific Ocean, in Japan where Roman’s father was stationed, Roman had a big fan club. “Roman’s dad is super proud,” Jen said. “That’s his boy.” No doubt, both parents had a lot to be proud of.

Seattle Refined

Roman and his mom Jen weren’t experts with experience in animal rescue; they were just dog lovers who saw an opportunity and took action. Luckily, they weren’t alone in their mission.

During the 1990s, Paul Steklenski of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, trained army officers at Fort Knox. The man knew war, and in 2013 — years after he finished his service — the dog lover knew he was missing something in his life.

Paul Steklenski / Facebook

That missing something was a dog of his own! A sweet canine to wag her tail and greet him each morning. So the army veteran went to a local animal shelter to look for the perfect pooch. There, he found the perfect companion — and something else.

First he adopted a dog named Tessa, who’d been brought from a “kill shelter” in Tennessee by van. The idea fascinated him. A dog sentenced to die brought elsewhere by volunteers through a sort of underground railroad? Paul started thinking.

Paul Steklenski / Facebook

“I became so aware and more compassionate to all animals,” Paul said later. Cue the Mission: Impossible theme music because, thinking of all the animals in kill shelters, a mission presented itself to the combat veteran…

His mission, if he chose to accept it, was to liberate dogs imprisoned in kill shelters across state lines. As always, should he fail (or be captured by cats), the dog lovers of the world would be really disappointed in him.

Michigan Humane

The army veteran wasn’t one to turn down a mission — no matter how impossible. So he picked a team (Tessa the dog) and then visualized a plan of attack. First, he considered the mission’s challenges…

To succeed, Paul would have to sneak past the kill shelter’s defenses (okay, just get there); rescue the hostages, and transport them to safe places where they could make families happy. This would need supplies. Financing.

But Paul had been unknowingly preparing for the mission months before ever accepting it. See, in 2013, he started working at a company near his home. Every day on his new commute to work, he passed a small airfield…

Oregon Live

“I don’t know why,” the veteran recalled, “but I just decided one day to go in and sign up for flying lessons.” He obtained his license weeks after adopting Tessa (and shortly after accepting his impossible mission). Somehow, he could use that to help dogs.

CNN

“I thought, this is a way I can use an ability I have to help move a large number of animals in a short amount of time,” Paul said. And to cut down on logistical nightmares, the veteran bought his own personal plane for $70,000.

Flying Fur Animal Rescue via NY Post

Later, in May 2015, Paul founded a non-profit called Flying Fur Animal Rescue. With an investment of a lot of his own cash, he had the supplies and financing. Now, it was mission time (cue that Mission Impossible theme again)!

CNN

Paul and Tessa took off from Pennsylvania and headed south, towards states where kill shelters were everywhere. Once he landed (we can only assume after avoiding detection from enemy radars) shelter operatives met him at the runway.

CNN

These operatives were employees waiting with about a dozen dogs. Working quickly — because lethargy is the enemy of impossible missions — Paul helped them load the dogs into the plane’s storage and the cockpit itself.

6 ABC

We like to imagine that, as Paul cruised down the runway with the rescued dogs, a crew of bad guys chased after the plane, shaking their fists and weapons as the combat veteran took off towards the sunset. But in truth?

It all went smoothly. Paul brought the dogs up north where he found new non-kill shelters, owners, or foster parents for the rescued hostages — uhh — canines. Freeze frame. Mission accomplished…Until Paul received another mission.

Over the next few years, Paul accepted hundreds of missions from self-destructing tape recorders (metaphorically, at least), each a little different from the last. On one mission, he transported 12 dogs; when he landed, 12 families waited to adopt one.

Later, another mission saw him rescue a dog named Henley, right, who’d been abused. The dog feared Paul, but the combat veteran brought him to safety nonetheless. Weeks later, he called Henley’s new owner.

“I just couldn’t let that go,” he said. He wanted to make sure the dog was happy — and in the new life Paul gave him, he was! By August 2017, Paul and Tessa rescued over 700 dogs from kill shelters all across the country. And he loved every minute of it.

“I’m part of them,” he said. “I see it, I experience it. I can remember each flight like it just happened.” But “it’s bittersweet in the sense that you’ve got to spend maybe two hours with them, and they start to bond with you a little bit, and now they’re moving on.”

Still, Paul never passed on a mission. “When it’s something you’re very passionate about,” he said. “I don’t think you really measure the amount of energy or time or sacrifice you put into it. You just do it.”

Paul can certainly attest that the bonds military personnel forge during their service are unbreakable. S0 When another soldier rescued a pup during his tour, he just couldn’t cope with his new friend not going home with him.

After two tours in Afghanistan, Sean Laidlaw (left) figured he could handle anything Syria threw at him. But when the British Army deployed Sean and his comrades in the Royal Engineers in 2018, he leaped into a rescue attempt that he never saw coming.

Facebook / Sean Laidlaw

Sean was an expert at defusing and removing bombs. The Syrian Civil War had ravaged the country over the last several years, especially in the city of Raqqa. While many buildings crumbled around him, others still had undetonated explosives inside.

Reuters / Erik De Castro

Even when Sean wasn’t on patrol, the army life was a grind. Exciting moments in the camp were few and far between, and troop morale suffered greatly. When Sean got a call to investigate a bombed-out school in February, he was almost grateful.

Tom Bonnett

As Sean patrolled the area, he couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. When he really focused, however, he thought he could hear a faint whimpering somewhere under the rubble. Sean followed the noise and started digging.

Mercury Press and Media

It was a puppy! The canine, which appeared to be some kind of Asian shepherd mix, backed away from Sean as he reached out. Sean knew he had to do something to help the poor thing, but then a horrific sight made him recoil.

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A few other puppies surrounded the one Sean just found. Tragically, none of them had survived the collapse of the building. Now that the dog lost her family, Sean realized he couldn’t just leave her in the wreckage alone.

Pets 4 Homes

The pup still wouldn’t go near any strangers, so Sean did the sensible thing. He pulled out some water and a couple bites of food, and that was enough to draw the reluctant animal out from her hiding place.

Soon after, the orphaned canine let its guard down and allowed Sean to pick her up. There was an immediate bond. Sean decided to bring her back to base and introduce his new friend to all his squadmates. First, of course, she would need a name.

Mercury Press and Media

Sean called her Barrie, and she soon became a fixture in the Royal Engineers, barely ever leaving Sean’s side. Once she got settled in, Barrie accomplished quite a bit of good as well.

Mercury Press and Media

The Army interacted with a number of Syrian children, many of whom lost their homes and family members. Amid the chaos and destruction, having a friendly dog roam around made a big difference in their lives.

Times of Israel / Bilal Hussein

Sean also believes that having Barrie around gave him an escape from the stress and trauma of the military life. Whereas some of his comrades developed mental illness or PTSD, Sean at least had an outlet and companion.

Incredibly grateful to have such a valuable friend, Sean said “I feel like it may come across that I saved Barrie’s life, but I feel like she saved mine.” They got so close that Sean could no longer imagine being apart from Barrie.

Mercury Press and Media

Barrie became such a big member of the team that Sean decided to make it official and sewed together a custom bomb squad vest for Barrie. Aside from being a big fashion statement, the vest kept her protected from danger. However, it turned out that her biggest threat was right around the corner.

Mercury Press and Media

In autumn of 2018, Sean received word that his stint in Syria was almost over. He was going home — but only with one ticket. What would happen to Barrie once he left? He didn’t know if he would ever see his dog again, or even if she would still have a home at the Army base.

Mercury Press and Media

Sean’s comrades celebrated the entire trip back to the United Kingdom, but Barrie weighed heavily on his mind. Then, an idea popped into his head. He remembered hearing about a charity called War Paws that helped reconnect veterans with their military dogs.

War Paws workers seemed confident they could help Sean, but there were no guarantees. They instructed him to go to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to await the arrival of a military plane. He waited nervously, hoping Barrie would be one of the passengers getting off.

Mercury Press and Media

As the airline staff rolled out a dog crate, Sean recognized a familiar face peering through the door. Barrie made it to Europe after all! Holding back tears of joy, Sean reached out to hand her a gift.

Mercury Press and Media

He got Barrie a new and improved vest! She took a look in the airport mirror to size up her new duds — and her new surroundings. The streets of Raqqa, Syria, were all Barrie had ever known, so Sean hoped she would adjust to British life easily enough.

Mercury Press and Media

With Barrie back in his arms, Sean returned home to Hornchurch, Essex. She settled in immediately — a far cry from the scared puppy that wouldn’t come out of the ruined school. Thanks to a stable home and steady diet, Barrie grew like a weed too!

Mercury Press and Media

A full-grown dog, Barrie continued to live happily with Sean. After going through so much together, there’s no doubt that this pair would never let anything split them apart ever again.

ITV / Ken McKay

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