Asher is a three-legged shepherd who loves splashing in water bowls and chewing on tree branches. Miss Kitty is a black Chihuahua mix who races around the yard at the speed of a cheetah. Layla, who is part pit bull, prefers licking human faces to chasing tennis balls.
“I just love working with dogs,” said the rising sixth-grader who lives in Georgia with his mom, dad, four dogs and various fostered animals. “I want to give them a second chance.”
Roman was 4 years old and living in Texas when he learned about the tragic fate of some shelter dogs. During a trip to a pet store, he saw dogs in crates waiting to be adopted. His parents explained to him that, because of overcrowding at shelters, the animals that could not find families quickly enough were at risk of being “put down,” or euthanized (pronounced YU-than-ized). That means they are given medicine that quickly kills them. This heartbreaking reality motivated Roman to act.
“I dove in head first,” he said of his new mission to find every shelter dog in the United States a home.
To accomplish his goal, Roman creates playful videos of individual dogs at local shelters, which his mom shares on social media. When choosing his stars, he doesn’t look for the pups with the fluffiest fur or floppiest ears. He spotlights the underdogs.
“We pick ones that have been there the longest and have the saddest story and are less likely to get adopted, like pit bulls, labs and other big dogs,” said Roman, who hosted a YouTube show about rescues on the Dodo Kids network when he was 8 years old.
About a year after Roman started making the videos, he and his mom founded Project Freedom Ride. The nonprofit organization transports unwanted dogs from Texas, where their survival rate is often low, to northern states, where their chances of adoption are higher. Since 2016, Project Freedom Ride has saved more than 4,200 dogs, including the 17 that appear on “Roman to the Rescue.” (The network released the first seven episodes in February; the other 10 will become available this summer.)
“Roman has had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of animals for over half his life,” said YuJung Kim, group publisher at the Dodo, which produces the series for Disney. “While being just a normal kid at the end of the day — he loves Legos, ‘Star Wars’ and playing with his friends — Roman shows us that it’s possible to channel a passion for animals into meaningful change at any age.”
In each episode, Roman focuses on one dog. First, he determines the pup’s character (athletic, shy or clingy) and favorite activities (belly rubs, swimming or giving kisses). Then he tosses around filmmaking ideas with a creative team of young celebrities, such as Issac Ryan Brown from “Raven’s Home.”
After the video is posted, Roman and Aziza Glass, a veterinarian, sort through the applications and select the best kid for that dog. Before handing the pooch over to its new family, he gives his four-legged friend a final cuddle — a bittersweet experience.
“I feel so happy when the dog gets adopted,” he said, “but sometimes it’s so hard to let the dog go.” However, there was one he was eager to bid farewell to: a terrier named Honey who, Roman said, “would stare at you and poop.”
How to help
Roman posts photos and videos of Texas and Georgia shelter dogs on Project Freedom Ride’s Instagram account. The organization’s website also includes information about his volunteer work and rescued dog events. Roman said kids of any age can help shelter dogs. He recommends contacting local shelters and asking if they need donations (blankets, toys, treats), help walking or spending time with the dogs, or even creating videos of dogs that could use extra love.