Wake County

Tar Heel: Ron Young uses love for animals to do good for others

For 12 years, Ron Young has organized a canine agility contest to benefit Toys for Tots.
For 12 years, Ron Young has organized a canine agility contest to benefit Toys for Tots. jhknight@newsobserver.com

As he searched for a way to help local children enjoy Christmas, Ron Young turned to one of his more unusual hobbies: setting out obstacles, then judging the dogs that go over, under and through them.

Young is an engineering manager at Cisco Systems who in his free time serves as a judge for the North American Dog Agility Council, or NADAC. For the past 12 years, he has organized an annual dog agility event that has raised more than $170,000 for Toys for Tots.

On Wednesday, Young presented representatives of the U.S. Marine Corps, which runs Toys for Tots, with more than $20,000 and several boxes of toys collected at the NADAC Toys for Tots Agility Fundraiser earlier this month.

The local organization distributes about 90,000 toys every year to children in five counties who might otherwise find little under the Christmas tree.

Marine 1st Sgt. Lee Cox, who coordinates the program, says Young is one of their largest donors; others who raise money on that scale are usually businesses or organizations, not individuals.

“He goes about doing everything on his own, and he always collects one of the largest donations,” Cox says. “Without generous people in the community and volunteers like Mr. Young, we wouldn’t be able to make this a success.”

Young, 50, has conducted blood drives, run and biked for charity, and even won an award from the Town of Apex for helping to save a man’s life. But he wanted to make his biggest effort for others around Christmas, his favorite time of year.

“Kids need to believe in the magic of Christmas, and it’s hard to believe if other kids are getting toys and you aren’t,” he says. “I’ve never outgrown that and wanted to try to make sure others experience it.”

Busy with dogs

Growing up on a Granville County tobacco farm, Young was long accustomed to having dogs around, primarily hunting dogs, among other animals.

His parents still live on the family land, though the tobacco it produces now is grown by farmers who lease the fields.

Young moved to Raleigh in the 1980s to study computer engineering at N.C. State University, and stayed in the area to work at Nortel and later Cisco as an engineer and manager.

His job involves overseeing a team of about 25 engineers, based at his Research Triangle Park office and in India, who make tools that engineers use to write code.

In contrast to his high-tech day job, his rural home in Chatham County reflects his upbringing. He and his wife have two Australian shepherds, two horses and five cats.

His wife, who participates in dressage competitions, spends more time with the horses, while he is focused on the dogs. The shepherds are his favorite breed.

But it’s an active breed, and Young says he started entering them in agility contests when one of his dogs seemed to need some sort of occupation.

“Every day she would get the newspaper and she would be upset if you didn’t let her,” he says.

He saw an agility event by chance and started taking her to classes, at first with no intention of competing. Their instructor signed him and his dog up for an event, which didn’t go well.

“It was an abysmal failure,” he says. “I thought, ‘I can’t end on that note.’ 

That was 1995, and by 2000, he was judging. He has traveled across the country and to Australia to compete and judge the contests, which involve directing the dog through combinations of jumps and tunnels using voice and hand commands without touching them.

‘An army of people’

Even before he founded his own annual competition, Young was no stranger to helping others. An avid runner and bicyclist, Young has raised money for a number of causes through dozens of charity races and triathlons and has served as a team leader for the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

He also teaches martial arts and for a time organized annual blood drives.

In 2005, he was honored by Apex for his quick thinking as he was driving home from work and encountered a worker who had been severely shocked on the side of the road. He and another driver gave the man CPR until the ambulance arrived, likely saving his life.

When he thought about creating his own fundraiser for the Christmas season, he turned to his other hobby as a judge for dog agility contests. His hope was to create an event where all of the entrance fees and other revenue went directly to local children through Toys for Tots.

The timing was fortuitous, because there are few other events of this type leading up to the holidays. And the draw of helping local children also proved powerful for the people who travel across state lines for such contests.

The main costs of such events are judges and facilities, so Young persuaded several judges to pay their own travel to the event and work for free. (This year there were four in addition to him.)

The NADAC waived its fees, and Young recruited donors to cover the costs of locations usually used for horse shows at a discounted rate. He personally works out details from permits to lighting to the needed portable toilets and cleanup.

But, he notes, many contribute. One woman serves all of the food at the event and donates all of the money she raises. Others contribute all kinds of items for the event’s raffles, such as a week at a dog-friendly beach condominium.

“It’s not just me,” he says. “It’s an army of people.”

This year, competitors trickled in from 12 states, from as far away as Minnesota, most of them staying at a hotel that offers discounts and waives its pet fee.

His own dogs compete, but only sporadically, between his duties as judge and organizer.

“I enter them in everything and run them when I can,” he says.

The dogs at the competition ran dozens of races, running courses that Young and other judges set up between races. During those times, competitors and spectators, who get in free, participate in dance contests, a puppy kissing contest, trivia games, raffles and more, all meant to keep the event lively.

“It’s a big party as well as just a dog event,” Young says of the three-day event.

Many people bring the suggested toy donation, but the vast majority of what Young donates is cash, which is particularly useful to fill in gaps in the types of toys that have been donated.

The toys are making their way this week to children in Wake, Durham, Johnston, Franklin and Granville counties, where they’ll make someone’s morning brighter on Friday.

If you’d like to nominate someone to be a Tar Heel of the Week, email tarheel@newsobserver.com

Ronald Young

Born: July 1965, Granville County

Residence: Chatham County

Career: Engineering services manager, Cisco Systems; judge, North American Dog Agility Council

Education: B.A., computer science, N.C. State University; B.S., business administration, N.C. Wesleyan College

Family: Wife, Karen

Fun Fact: Young says his home is a sort of magnet for animals. He ended up with five cats after his wife brought home a pregnant stray, and he says he has had dogs, a cow and even a donkey show up in his yard.