Since 2006, Robert (Bob) Yost, 70, retired Marine, has rescued over 1000 dogs from kill shelters. Making 10 hour drives to Pennsylvania and Maryland, he has sometimes left his home in Bethel at 5 a.m., arrived in Maryland at 10 a.m., had a cup of coffee, and turned right around to bring a truckload of dogs back to the Danbury Animal Welfare Society. There, the dogs, sometimes as many as 30 a month, wait until they are lucky enough to find their forever homes.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Yost has been selected as a 2012 American Red Cross Hero of Western Connecticut. “He was one of many nominated by the community,” Paul Shipman, spokesperson for the Red Cross said. “We received recommendations for people who had all done a heroic deed. But then there are people who do things day in and day out, who are constantly and quietly contributing to a good cause. That's what Bob was doing.”
The dogs Bob saved were at death's door. Most of them came from the south or mid-west. Veronica Bickelhaupt, Shelter and clinic manager at DAWS, said, “The dogs might be used for hunting and if the dog gets pregnant, they leave the puppies by the side of the road.”
Bickelhaupt said that in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a shelter takes in 1000 animals a month, and they euthanize half of them. She explained, “Most of the shelters in those areas don't neuter the animals,” adding that rather than pay the expense of neutering them, the dogs will be killed.
DAWS rescues animals they believe they can find a home for, even if the dog requires surgery. “We recently spent $4,000 to repair a disc in a beagle's back so he could be adopted and live pain free,” Bickelhaupt added. “We are able to medically help dogs through donations from the public and fundraisers like the .”
In Brookfield, Kimberly Dunne, the out of state rescue coordinator for DAWS, has the difficult job of selecting which dogs will be rescued and brought to Connecticut. Recognizing that many pets will not be rescued, Dunne admitted, “It never gets any easier.”
Dunne has worked with Yost for more than six years. Describing him as dedicated and dependable, she said that Yost has done the major portion of out of state driving. “He is always the first one to step up. He does it because he wants to; he thoroughly enjoys it. It is selfless volunteering.” With a grin, she said, “He always takes his own dog, his co-pilot, Dutch with him.”
Yost believes that being a Marine prepared him for this kind of work. He also just loves animals. His commitment to them has gone above and beyond what most people would do.
The way Yost sees it, “It goes back to animals being part of household, not only companions. If you bring them into your home, you have a responsibility to care for them. Once I didn't go to work everyday, I wanted to contribute to things that had meaning for me, and DAWS certainly fulfilled that,” he said.
Dunne said that Yost enjoys picking up the dogs, especially when they are flown in. “Sometimes people with a pilot's license volunteer to transport the dogs by air. Bob has really enjoyed those pick ups because he was a pilot with the Marines.”
“No transport is too small for Bob,” Dunne added. “From one dog to fifteen dogs, he has done it.”
Yost's work with animals has gone beyond DAWS into seeking a solution for pets who are separated from their families during natural disasters. “There were a lot of dogs that couldn't be brought into shelters after Katrina. Those people wouldn't have given up their pets had it not been for losing their own homes,” Yost said. “After that hurricane, the government said we have to find a way to keep pets and people together, and I have been working towards a way to do that.”
Yost became state certified as a member of the Connecticut Animal Response Team (CART) and the Bethel Community Emergency Response Team. “Most shelters, even the Red Cross, do not provide a way for people to bring their pets when they must leave their homes,” Yost said.
As a result of the October snow storm, the power in Bethel was out for a week. Yost set up a shelter for animals in the Municipal Building where the Red Cross had set up a shelter for families.
On March 7, Yost brought up another ten dogs that had come from Tennessee and Kentucky. The shelters in those states are now being cleared for pets that became separated from their owners during the recent tornado. Ultimately, some of those dogs will end up at DAWS as well.
“I think that to volunteer as long as he has, it has to be very meaningful, because it is not all fun,” Dunne said. “There are a lot of challenges to sticking with animal rescue, year after year.”
Rising to challenges seems to be what Bob Yost is best at. Besides his work with animals,Yost is also a volunteer with Masonicare Hospice in Newtown, where he works with people who are nearing the end of their lives. He also works with the youth and veterans through the American Legion where he is still very active.
During his 20 year career in the Marines, Yost served two terms in Viet Nam. He also taught ROTC in the schools in Brewster, NY for 18 years. He said, “Whether you are in the service one year, two, or 20, you learn to see how problems are formed and how to look for the opportunity to make it work. Some of what I try to do, with churches and veterans groups, is to teach how to use computers, to bring people into the 20th century and even in the 21st century.”
Yost believes that with social media, the possibilities to improve animal rescue will be even greater.
A special Red Cross Heroes Breakfast honoring Bob and award winners in nine other categories will be held on March 8 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury Connecticut. Tickets to the event are $35 and can be obtained from the American Red Cross of Western Connecticut. For tickets and information, contact Nicole Arsenault at (203) 702-1282 or email her at Nicole.email@example.com.