Harold Vosko, president and co-founder of Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, was as dedicated and compassionate about his work as he was quick with a joke, friends and family said Tuesday.
The Las Vegas man died Monday night of a heart attack. He was 66.
The former craps dealer-turned-video rental mogul retired young and wealthy after selling off most of his business, but he still wasn’t done. He, his wife and three others founded Heaven Can Wait in 2000, and the organization has since spayed or neutered more than 140,000 animals and placed more than 8,600 in loving homes, according to the society.
“If the people in the Congress and Senate, if they had one-tenth of the compassion toward people that Harold had toward dogs and cats, heaven wouldn’t even have to wait — it would be here,” his cousin, Mark Vosko, said.
The Detroit native met his future best friend, Dale Clarke, when they both worked as croupiers at the Aladdin. They got along right away and knew they had to go into business together.
“We would work 6 to 2 in the morning, or 7 to 3 in the morning, and afterward we’d sit in my van and flip through magazines, looking for ideas,” Clarke said. “Then one day he tells me he bought this VCR thing.”
The pair opened one of Las Vegas’ first video stores in 1980 with a $20,000 investment. They called it Captain Video because Clarke had been a captain in the Marine Corps.
The name was later changed to Major Video — “He got a promotion,” Clarke said — before opening their first 24-hour Video Park store in 1986 on West Flamingo Road and Decatur Boulevard.
“We were never in it for the money,” Clarke said. “We wanted the challenge, and we wanted the competition.”
The chain grew to 31 stores across the country. In 1994, Harold Vosko retired to his 10,000-square-foot home in Spanish Trail with his wife and his many dogs.
The only vacations Vosko took during his time at Heaven Can Wait were yearly trips with Clarke to the Red Sox Fantasy Camp. The first things he’d pull out of his suitcase were photos of his dogs, Clarke said.
The initial plan for Heaven Can Wait was to buy property in Sloan and build a shelter that could house about 300 animals. The whole thing would have cost upward of $6 million, Heaven Can Wait medical director Dr. David Henderson said.
“Now, Harold was a pretty smart guy,” Henderson said. “And he did the research and figured out that it was probably a waste of $6 million.”
Instead, he decided the quickest way to solve Las Vegas’ feral dog and cat problem was to curb the numbers of feral animals born in the first place. The organization started putting on feral cat clinics, but were kicked out of every veterinary facility they set up in until Henderson became involved.
“We did all the work out of my small practice, and we just kept doing more and more. Eventually it was like I was using their practice to see my patients,” Henderson said.
Heaven Can Wait’s first spay and neuter clinic opened in 2009 at 546 N. Eastern Ave., directly across the street from Henderson’s practice so he could run over and help in an emergency.
With few donations rolling in, Harold Vosko funded much of the organization using his own money.
“As we move forward, our board of directors, devoted staff and dedicated volunteers will honor Harold’s legacy by continuing to provide the Las Vegas community with an unending love for animals and a relentless pursuit of Harold’s dreams,” Heaven Can Wait board member Laura Eisenberg said in a statement.
Henderson said Harold Vosko always wanted to keep himself out of the media, but never hesitated to promote Heaven Can Wait.
Friends and family called him selfless, kind and compassionate.
Harold Vosko was “a character” with “a sense of humor that wouldn’t quit,” Mark Vosko said. He was always smiling and quick to make a joke, but never the type to seek out the spotlight.
Mark Vosco said his cousin is also survived by his wife, Rachel Vosko; his brother, Steve Vosko; his dogs, Knight and Penny, and “a whole planet full of dogs and cats.”
Memorial services will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Heaven Can Wait.