West Columbia Gorge Humane Society - Rescue of the Month, March 2019
It is an honor to name the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society as our Rescue of the Month for March. Their mission is to end unnecessary euthanasia of all healthy or treatable companion animals in our community and find them permanent, loving homes.
We sat down with WCGHS's Volunteer and Programs Manager, Cathi Parent, who shared some great insights into the incredible work this organization does every day.
Tell us more about the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.
West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS), established in 1994, is an independent, 501c3 nonprofit, animal shelter located in Washougal, WA. What began as a small, private, home-based cat rescue many years ago, has grown into a site-based animal shelter and extensive foster network, that now helps over 500 homeless cats and dogs find loving new homes each year. WCGHS operates both a cat and dog shelter (two separate buildings), and offers a variety of programs and services to support pets, and their people, throughout the community.
Animals come to WCGHS through owner surrender, transfer from partner organizations both in-state and out-of-state, and Animal Control. WCGHS is contracted with the cities of Camas and Washougal, WA to provide animal care services to impounded dogs found within the city limits of both cities. We have dedicated staff and volunteers who care for our animals and manage our programs. Like all shelters, we have limited space and resources, but when we accept an animal into our care, we make a lifetime commitment to its welfare.
What are the biggest challenges WCGHS faces?
One of our biggest challenges is raising enough money to cover our medical expenses, which, for any one animal, can range from a few hundred dollars for routine vaccinations and spay/neuter, to thousands of dollars for a life-saving surgical procedure. As a shelter committed to a no-kill mission, we do not euthanize healthy or treatable animals regardless of time, space, breed or age. That means, we work with each and every animals’ individual needs regardless of the cost, in order to prepare them for placement into a loving new home.
With over 500 animals a year needing some degree of medical care, our expenses add up quickly and average approximately $100,000 annually for this alone. The most distressing situation is when we take in an animal who has multiple medical issues that need to be addressed in order to be placed up for adoption. The costs for that one animal can sometimes reach up to $10,000, especially when complications arise and the animal needs emergency treatment or additional surgeries. Money raised through fundraisers, donations and sponsorships help pay for some of these more costly medical procedures that put a strain on our budget, and can mean the difference between life or death for a deserving animal.
Running a rescue and helping animals can be tough, both emotionally and physically. What were two tough experiences or trying moments for WCGHS, and what was done to overcome them?
Spirit: One evening back in June of 2018, a tiny kitten was found in a box, abandoned and clearly suffering from severe, life-threatening injuries. We immediately brought her to the veterinarian for evaluation. It broke our hearts when we found out that our newest rescue had a pelvis that was fractured in four places and several broken ribs. This tiny kitten was only 4 weeks old and had no use of her back legs or control over her bladder or bowel movements.
These injuries, in combination with her age, may have resulted in humane euthanasia at many other shelters, but we saw this little girl had a big personality and a will to live, so we named her “Spirit” and decided to give her a chance. After emergency surgery, she was placed in a special foster home for recovery. Amazingly, within a few weeks, she was walking again, and had full control over her bladder and bowels.
Shortly after being cleared for adoption, a wonderful family came in and decided to not only adopt Spirit, but also another kitten for her to play with! If you saw her today, you would never know how difficult the beginning of her life was. Spirit is a kitten who will forever remind us why we do what we do. Her success, and others like her, keep us going and help us deal with the not so nice side of animal rescue.
Miracle: Miracle, a senior poodle, was discovered lying still in a bush, by a woman out on a walk, in the Spring of 2017. The woman scooped her up, wrapped her a blanket and brought her to us. Miracle was in very bad shape; underweight, listless, blind, deaf, her fur was dirty and matted, and her nails were so long they curled into her paw pads. Most likely Miracle had been abandoned after suffering for a very long time from severe neglect. Upon examination, in addition to her obvious health issues, she was diagnosed with a heart condition, tumors and severe dental issues.
Miracle is another example of an animal that may have been euthanized at any other shelter due to her age and complex medical issues. But something told us to clean this old girl up and give her a chance, so we put her on antibiotics and waited to see if her infections would clear up. They did and she started showing signs of improvement, so we went ahead with surgery to remove her tumors and several of her teeth in order to clean up her mouth. Miracle eventually recovered and showed us that she was worth every penny. She was still an old girl, assumed to be 14, but she was feeling better, loved and hadn’t been left to die in a bush.
We knew the chance of Miracle being adopted at her age was minimal but we found a family for her that was experienced with old dogs and had worked as a hospice foster in the past. It was the jackpot for Miracle and allowed her to live the rest of her life in a happy, loving home with other dogs and walks with the family in her own personal stroller! She made an appearance with us in the Camas Days Parade the summer of 2017 in her stroller, too! Miracle lived for another 10 months until she passed away peacefully in her sleep.
Does WCGHS have a network of fosters that help care for the animals or do most of the animals stay in the facility?
We have a robust foster care program for both dogs and cats. Without which, we would not have the lifesaving reach we do currently. Our dedicated foster volunteers aid by opening their homes to dogs and cats when they are in need of short, temporary or long-term care and attention. Animals in need of foster may be recovering from medical procedures, pregnant, kittens or puppies who are too young to be in the shelter environment, or animals who need special socialization and training, or are not thriving in a shelter setting due to fear and anxiety. Placing an animal in foster care doubles our life-saving capacity, as it opens up space for another homeless pet to come into the shelter and receive the care and shelter they need while they await adoption.
Where does WCGHS’ primary financial support come from?
Our primary financial support comes from individual and corporate donations, adoption fees, grants, events, sponsorships and other fundraisers.
How many pets on average does WCGHS adopt out annually?
The number of adopted pets has increased each year. In 2017, we adopted 482 pets. (81 dogs and 401 cats). In 2018, that number went up to 560 pets adopted (101 dogs and 455 cats)!
How can people help WCGHS?
Adopt. Donate. Volunteer. Do any, or all, of those three things and you can make a difference in the lives of animals in need in your community! As an independent, nonprofit organization, West Columbia Gorge Humane Society relies on donations and volunteers to continue its life-saving mission. Every dollar raised through donation, or saved through volunteer manpower, helps save lives! And, of course, providing the warmth and comfort of your home by adopting a pet in need not only saves one life, but two, by opening up a space for another animal in need to come into our care.
What are the future plans for WCGHS?
The future is bright for West Columbia Gorge Humane Society! We plan to double our life-saving capacity to 1,000 animals in the next two years, and, we have increased our collective impact in Southwest Washington by partnering with two other local Humane Societies who share the same vision of making Southwest Washington a more compassionate community for both pets and their people. The Humane Southwest Network (HSN) is a coalition between West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, the Humane Society of Southwest Washington (HSSW), and the Humane Society of Cowlitz County (HSCC).
It is unique in nature, as it is based on a shared services model that allows for sharing resources among partners. By minimizing the duplication of efforts, each organization saves time, money, and energy so that more time, money and energy can be spent saving lives and providing resources to the community. At this time, our shared services include: marketing support, accounting services, volunteer training, community outreach, veterinary care, and animal transfers between HSN partners and out-of-state shelters.