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News / Clark County News

West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in Washougal celebrates successful year of adoptions

Nonprofit's 200 volunteers called crucial to operation

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 16, 2024, 6:07am
7 Photos
Dove the cat stretches her paw out to play with Larry the cat. Both are in one of the colony rooms, where they can roam freely, at the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in Washougal.
Dove the cat stretches her paw out to play with Larry the cat. Both are in one of the colony rooms, where they can roam freely, at the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in Washougal. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

WASHOUGAL — It was a successful year for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society and its family of furry friends.

In 2023, 548 pets were adopted and 358 were fostered through the Humane Society. The Washougal nonprofit couldn’t have done it without the help of its 200 volunteers who dedicated a collective 44,358 hours. Volunteerism is what drives the organization, according to Michelle Simeone, the nonprofit’s executive director.

The Humane Society has 11 staff members, many of whom are cross-trained. That is not nearly enough people to care for all the animals, which is why volunteers are so important. Last year, 1,216 pets were spayed or neutered, 10,880 pounds of food were distributed to the community and 21 lost pets were reunited with their families.

Simeone began volunteering at the Humane Society 11 years ago after her best friend died from cancer.

If you go

What: A Tail to Remember fundraising dinner and live auction for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.

When: 5 p.m. March 9

Where: Heathman Lodge, 7801 N.E. Greenwood Drive, Vancouver

Cost: $150 per person

Information:wcghs.org; 360-835-3464

“A lot of people are led into volunteerism because maybe something bad happened, and they just want to give back,” Simeone said.

She moved into the executive director role in 2020 after her predecessor left.

“I found that coming down here and working with these animals, serving and giving back made me feel better. I came here and it just gave me solace,” Simeone said.

‘Love and care’

On a bright and early Thursday morning, volunteers Ann Ostrowski and Vicki Barron Sumann were already at work at the cat shelter. Sumann, who has been a volunteer for five years, was shuffling between feeding the cats, cleaning their cages and sweeping the floor. Ostrowski has been volunteering at the cat shelter for two weeks. She comes in every Thursday morning.

“I read up about this facility and saw they were doing really good things. So when I got the opportunity to start my volunteer training, I could tell the care and love that goes into it,” Ostrowski said.

New cats usually stay in the treatment room for two weeks. They are checked for diseases, vaccinated and given time to acclimate to a new environment before they are transferred to the colony room, where animals roam freely.

If pets need to be spayed or neutered, surgery coordinator Jen Martin sets up the surgery at Columbia River Veterinary Specialists, where the Humane Society has a dedicated wing.

The shelter can hold around 35 cats comfortably, but the Humane Society can have between 80 and 200 cats in its care across various locations, such as foster homes and pet stores. The warm weather usually coincides with “kitten season,” when the organization sees a spike in cats being brought to the shelter.

The dog shelter is next door and also relies on volunteers.

Ken Rose began volunteering at the Humane Society after he retired two years ago. As lead volunteer, he walks the dogs, feeds them and cleans their cages. Some of the dogs are agitated or afraid because they’re in a new environment, so working with them requires a lot of patience and compassion, Rose said.

“You work with dogs who have been here for months, and then you see pictures with their new family and these dogs are completely different,” Rose said. “They’re not agitated or upset. Just seeing that gives me so much fulfillment.”

It’s important that both shelters don’t get too crowded, Simeone said.

In 2023, 6.5 million dogs and cats entered shelters across the U.S., according to a report from Shelter Animals Count, a national database. For the past four years, many shelters have had too many animals but not enough adoptions, resulting in overcrowding and, at times, euthanasia.

“There are a lot of animal rescue groups having to euthanize for time and space when they didn’t have to before the pandemic,” Simeone said. “Thankfully we don’t have to do that. You want to give every animal the time it needs to find the right home.”

In honor of its 30th year, West Columbia Gorge Humane Society will host its “Tail to Remember’’ dinner and live auction on March 9. The money raised will go toward resources for the animals and both shelters. For more information on volunteering, adoption or fostering at the Humane Society, visit: wcghs.org.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.