By Jeff Todd
DENVER (CBS4) – A friend once told Bob Rohde he’d probably only work at the Denver Dumb Friends League for a few months.
On Feb. 7, Rohde retired as the President and CEO after 41 years at the helm and a total of 45 years with the organization.
“It’s kind of like your second family. You’re leaving an organization that you deeply care about and the team members, the staff,” he said.
Rohde and his wife moved to Denver in 1973 because both got jobs at the league when it was housed in a dilapidated building off Santa Fe Drive.
“My job was to work in the kennels with the dogs,” he said.
One year later came the move to the current location on Quebec. By 1977, Rohde was put in charge.
“When we first started at the league, and we had a staff of 17 people, and we’re handling about 44,000 incoming animals a year, and only roughly 11 percent walked out the door. The community wasn’t with us at that time. I just kept telling myself something had to change,” Rohde said. “The change has happened now where about 90 percent of the animals walk out the door. It is because of the community, the team, and the organization.”
Rohde says he’s seen a lot of change over the four decades in charge, but others would say he’s been the leader.
When he started, the DFL had no veterinarians. They now employ 11 as the needs of the pets and the desire to help all animals has changed the DFL mission.
Rohde is leaving as the facility begins its fourth remodel to better meet the needs of animals and adopting families.
“We were one of the first shelters, if not the first shelter, that did adoption through PetSmart. We were one of the first shelters that marketed our pets,” he said.
He’s been instrumental in legislation to stop animal cruelty, increase regulation on shelters, breeders, and groomers, and created a coalition to work with 43 county sheriff’s on animal cruelty cases.
The Harmony Equine Center in Douglas County has become yet another model for other organizations to emulate.
“I’m more interested in looking forward into what can be done. I’m a big believer in ‘working together works.’ As far as the shelters in our state, we work very well together,” Rohde said.
The Denver Dumb Friends League has become one of the three largest nonprofit humane societies in the country. The facility and the structure of the organization have become models for others in the animal welfare industry.
Rohde was able to handpick his successor, and they’ve been working together for three years as a new massive redevelopment gets underway.
Rohde said he’ll miss seeing animals go to a loving home on a daily basis, but only plans to return for events when he’s asked.
“I think it’s best if I just kind of fade off into the sunset,” Rohde said.
Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.