Humane Society CEO retires after 36 years of helping Lincoln people and pets

Bob Downey was sent off with a parade at the end of his final day
Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 6:38 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - With barking, waving and reminiscing, dozens of people whose lives were touched by Bob Downey, CEO of the Capital Humane Society, participated in a drive-through retirement party. Everyone wishing Downey well as he starts a new chapter in his life.

"A lot of mixed emotions," Downey said. "It's been my baby for 36 years and that's hard to walk away from."

It's a journey that started 36 years ago.

Downey was living in Bellevue, but needed to move back to Lincoln to care for his parents and he needed a job. He saw the job listed in the newspaper and and applied.

"Initially I thought of this as a stop-over job," Downey said.

The shelter he showed up at was on it's last limb financially.

“It’s somewhat amazing the organization even survived,” he said. “A lot of board members thought it wouldn’t.”

Now, as Downey prepares to leave, it’s in a much better place. They have two locations, the admissions and assessment center and the Pieloch Pet Adoption Center.

The organization has triple the employees, a vet staff and every pet gets a full medical work-up, spayed and neutered, micro-chipped and vaccinated before they’re put up for adoption.

"Before putting a pet up for adoption just meant moving the pet from one room to another," Downey said.

In 36 years, he also did a lot of work outside the shelter. Downey said he worked on more than 40 legislative bills that had to do with animal welfare. His proudest, a bill that made dog fighting and cock fighting felonies.

Also adopted across the state, an early age spay and neutering practice that has reduced the number of pets that come to the shelter by more than 3,000 even though the city's population keeps going up.

"Pets would have litters and then those litters would come back to the shelter, that's not ethical," he said.

Downey said the biggest change isn't a policy or law, instead an attitude shift.

"In the 80's nobody adopted from shelters, nobody paid attention to shelters," Downey said. "Everyone assumed since they were in the shelter there was something wrong with them or they were a problem, when really that's not true. Now adopting from the shelters is the thing to do."

Downey said it's this progress that turned his "stop-over job" into a career.

"I got addicted to the challenges," Downey said. "I saw the impact we were having on animals lives, on people."

Those who stopped by during his parade said Downey's leadership will be missed.

“He’s left a great legacy,” April Rimpley, board chair for the Capital Humane society. “I think he left the city of Lincoln, people and pets alike in a better place than they were.”

John Chapo, CEO of the Lincoln Children's Zoo also came through the drive-through party.

"Bob is an institution in our community, a great individual," Chapo said. "He's done exceptional things for thousands of people and pets."

Downey estimates more than 200.000 pets have made their way through the shelter in his time there. He said the impact of knowing how many lives he's touched is hard to grasp.

"I'm sure it'll sink in," he said.

But for now, Downey said he's looking forward to some freedom.

He's going to go on more bike rides, teach spin classes, spend time with his own dogs and look back on his three decades of service.

"Working in a shelter can be stressful," he said. "You see a lot that's not good and you have to deal with that. Now, it's time to let loose of those memories and start thinking of all of the good."

Downey said his send-off couldn't have been the better start to his new journey.

“I’m just touched,” he said. “It really makes you feel good.”

Copyright 2020 KOLN. All rights reserved.

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