Shelter in place?

New Humane Society director focuses on animal evacuation plans, shelter network

Megan Collins, the new director of operations for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, in Washougal, shows a paw-shaped tattoo on her right arm as she sits next to "Rina," a stray female chihuahua. Collins got the tattoo in 2010, as part of a fundraiser for the Asheville Humane Society, in Asheville, N.C. She has also previously worked for the Humane Society for Greater Savannah, in Savannah, Ga.

West Columbia Gorge Humane Society Director of Operations Megan Collins visits with "Rina," a stray female chihuahua, in the WCGHS dog shelter's meet and greet area, Aug. 23. A couple adopted "Rina" four days later.

The new director of operations for the Washougal-based West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS) wants to “firm up” the evacuation plan for animals in their care, in case of fires, floods or other disasters.

Megan Collins, a recent transplant from Savannah, Georgia, said that would involve taking the shelter’s dogs and cats further away than the Humane Society for Southwest Washington (HSSW), in East Vancouver, in case of emergencies.

During her almost four years as the director of public programs for the Humane Society for Greater Savannah, Collins expanded disaster preparedness efforts to include evacuation of people and their pets before Hurricane Matthew caused damage and flooding in October 2016 and Hurricane Irma did the same in September 2017, in the southeastern United States.

Before Savannah, she worked 4.5 years for the Asheville, North Carolina Humane Society.

As a new resident of the northwest, Collins, 29, is now involved in finalizing the terms of a memorandum of understanding for the Humane Southwest Network.

The coalition, which is in the process of being formed, will allow for shared services instead of duplicating efforts and increase each shelter’s life saving capacity, according to Collins.

The shared services — involving the WCGHS, the HSSW and the Humane Society of Cowlitz County — will include fundraising support, volunteer training, community outreach and veterinary care.

“There is no network of this kind in the United States, so we’re pioneering a new trail in the animal welfare field,” Collins said.

The process to build the coalition started before she arrived in Washougal.

Collins’ responsibilities with the WCGHS include overseeing the day-to-day operations, managing staff, strategic planning and developing standard operating procedures. Collins plans to collaborate with businesses and assist the five-person WCGHS board of directors with fundraising.

There are six paid staff members and more than 100 active volunteers with the WCGHS. In addition to Collins, the full-time employees are Dog Shelter Manager April Nicholas, Cat Shelter Manager Delaney Edison and Volunteer and Programs Manager Cathi Parent.

Cat Shelter Assistant Manager Jennifer Martin and Cat Shelter Assistant Stacey Morris-Crandall are part-time employees.

Collins succeeds Sharon Asker, the former WCGHS executive director who left that position two years ago.

“I have been doing some of the operation duties in addition to my role, so it will give me time to do more things,” Parent said, regarding the hiring of the new director of operations.

Collins will present her ideas for the future of the WCGHS during a board meeting this month. She plans to work with the board to create a strategic plan and road map for the 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization.

Farm life shaped career choice

Collins’ appreciation for animals was developed at an early age. She grew up on her parents’ eight-acre farm, riding and showing horses, in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

The family’s pets, over the years, included a dog, a barn cat, goats, cows, chickens, a donkey named “Eeyore” and a pot-bellied pig, “Petunia.”

Collins and her fianc?e, Susannah Dennis, have two dogs and two cats, and they live in Portland.

The WCGHS cat and dog shelters are located at 2675 and 2695 S. Index St., Washougal, in the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park. The adoption and viewing hours at the cat and dog shelters are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and by appointment.

For more information, call 360-835-3464 (cat shelter) or 360-335-0941 (dog shelter), email info@wcghs.org or visit wcghs.org. Aspiring volunteers are invited to apply at wcghs.org/volunteer. Questions can be emailed to volunteer@wcghs.org.