The cats of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society can look forward to a new place to rest their furry little heads. That’s the good news that started with bad news: the leaky roof over their old shelter at 2675 Index St., Washougal.
“A couple months ago, we noticed that there were bubbles in the paint in our office in the cat shelter,” said Michelle Simeone, executive director of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society. “We popped one of the bubbles and realized it was water.”
Contractors discovered a “very significant roof issue,” which had caused extensive damage to the shelter’s internal walls and exterior siding. The organization’s board of directors sought bids for repairs but were dismayed by the cost: an estimated $30,000 to $40,000, a sizable outlay of cash for this small, no-kill rescue and adoption organization.
“We said, ‘You know what? We have outgrown this building. We need to increase our square footage, so why don’t we look into getting a new building?’ ” Simeone said. “We put out some feelers and found that we could get a newer used modular building and make it exactly what we needed it to be.”
More square footage would allow the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society to help more cats, including cats with special needs. It would provide adequate office space for staff. It would allow for separate intake and treatment rooms, a quiet room for stressed cats and space to accommodate the many washers and dryers needed to clean and sanitize cat items. It would also allow for a more comfortable, homelike adoption room where people can socialize with cats. Finally, it would offer room to receive the many kittens expected to arrive on their doorstep during “kitten season,” the time of year when unspayed feral cats tend to give birth.
In short, a larger building means the organization can meet the community’s growing needs, not just now but also in the future, Simeone said.
That’s the hope, although the paws-on-the-ground reality depends on permitting with the Port of Camas-Washougal, a process that could take many months. Ultimately, the organization might be stuck repairing the building they have. No matter what the eventual outcome, however, the cats had to be moved out of the leaky shelter right away.
That’s when WellHaven Pet Health Mill Plain stepped in. The veterinary office at 906 S.E. 164th Ave. in east Vancouver is one of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society’s community partners and its vice president of finance serves on the society’s board of directors. The clinic offered space that the organization could lease while details are worked out regarding the new or refurbished shelter. On March 21, all the shelter cats were moved to their temporary home at WellHaven.
If the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society can secure a new, larger building, it would be good news not just for cats but also for the community. That’s because the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society offers vital resources for local pet owners, many of whom have been hit hard by the pandemic’s economic toll, Simeone said.
“When the pandemic hit, it just went off the charts,” she said. “People are dealing with hardship. They just need a little bit of time to get back on their feet. We’ll give your dog or cat some food, we’ll take care of them. We want to help the animal but the only way to help the animal is to help the person that’s guardian of the animal.”
The West Columbia Gorge Humane Society provides many services to pet owners in the Camas-Washougal community on a case-by-case basis. It provides temporary boarding for dogs and cats. It runs a community pet food pantry and it also distributes pet food through Refuel Washougal, the Camas-Washougal Meals on Wheels People and the Interfaith Treasure House at 91 C St. in Washougal. The society maintains an emergency fund for veterinary care for animals whose owners can’t afford it and it also helps financially strapped pet owners pay for basic veterinary care, like vaccinations and microchipping.
“We have people who are living paycheck to paycheck. They have an emergency with their pets and they don’t have hundreds of dollars sitting around for expensive tests,” Simeone said. “We try to provide resources to keep the pets in their homes with their loving families because that’s where they do best. We’re trying to go the extra mile for people. We’re trying to enrich the lives of pets and people.”
Simeone said there are many ways to help the organization carry out this mission.
“Adopt, volunteer, donate, advocate. Those four words represent something that anybody can do regardless of their socioeconomic level,” Simeone said. “If you don’t have any money, say good things about our organization. Volunteer – come in and pet some cats and walk some dogs. Donate – nonprofits need money. Lastly, adopt. If you want to adopt an animal, call us.”
Donations for a new or refurbished cat shelter are, of course, most welcome. Simeone also noted that in-person volunteering opportunities have been cut back during the pandemic and that WellHaven can’t accommodate many face-to-whisker visits because the cats’ space is inside a busy veterinary clinic. If you’re still eager to help the kitties, said Simeone, consider applying to foster one or more cats or kittens in your own home.
For the time being, cat adoptions are being conducted online at wcghs.org, and staff will do their utmost to pair you with a feline companion that’s well suited to you. If you live in the Camas-Washougal area and need help caring for your pet, call 360-835-3464.
“All of our animals are my babies. I treat them like my own. I make decisions for them like they’re my own,” Simeone said. “But I also I love talking to people, even if they’re at the worst point of their life. I know how it feels to be in a bad situation and have to give up their animals. I want to help them as much as I can.”