WASHOUGAL — Being around four-legged friends is how West Columbia Gorge Humane Society volunteers prefer to ring in 2021.
In fact, they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Volunteers are on hand all day, 365 days a year, to walk dogs, socialize cats, feed animals and clean living corridors at the Humane Society that serves Camas and Washougal. That was no different Friday on New Year’s Day, when a handful of the organization’s volunteer base spent time tending to a dozen cats and two dogs.
The small but mighty organization that serves cats and dogs has a staff of six, but it relies on more than 100 volunteers who are the heartbeat of the operation, said Micki Simeone, the organization’s interim executive director.
“We have a lot of people helping us do what we do,” Simeone said. “We wouldn’t have this if we didn’t have these volunteers.”
One of those volunteers cleaning Friday morning was Tami Gray, a retired nurse and a WCGHS volunteer for four years. Making the place as spotless as possible for people and the animals gives Gray lots of satisfaction. She also gives cats medication when needed.
“It really makes a big difference,” Gray said, “and it makes me happy.”
A pandemic-riddled 2020 also meant adjusting some operations. Volunteers are limited on-site to promote social distancing, shelter hours continue to be by-appointment and a no-contact adoption process includes a three-day home trial for potential new pet owners. Just on New Year’s Eve, nine adoptions close out a historic year for adoptions. In all, 653 animals — 539 cats, 114 dogs — found new homes, said Delaney Edison, the organization’s director of operations.
Shelley Vanderheyden, who volunteers with the dogs, spent the morning tending to Holly and Yam. Both are available for adoption. All of Vanderheyden and her husband’s pets are rescue animals, including Cassie, their new addition recently adopted from WGCHS, she said. Cassie came as part of a recent transport of animals from Texas and became an instant fit in her family.
All adoptions are feel-good stories for volunteers, but one story tops the list as most memorable in 2020 for cat volunteers Pamela Sanseri and her daughter, 16-year-old Gabrielle: It was Betty the cat, adopted by a former volunteer after being in and out of the Humane Society for 3,470 days — a span of more than nine years — according to WCGHS.
The mother and daughter are animal lovers who began volunteering in 2018. In addition to New Year’s Day, they volunteered on Christmas Day, when Sanseri also brought along her husband to volunteer.
It’s fulfilling to be around their four-legged friends, she said. Holiday or not.
“It’s something to do as a family,” Pamela Sanseri said. “It’s calm and very peaceful.”