Volunteers step up for dogs awaiting their ‘forever homes’

West Columbia Gorge Human Society fundraiser Oct. 12

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Washougal resident Cindy Cunningham walks along Index Road in Washougal with Brooklyn, an American pit bull terrier, on Sept. 6. Cunningham is a volunteer dog walker for the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society. (Photos by Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Samuel, a 4-month-old rat terrier mix living at the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS), absolutely loves to be taken for walks.

The puppy displayed his enthusiasm on the morning of Sept. 6 during a stroll with Camas resident Jeannie Parrish by repeatedly leaping into the air. What started out as a “walk” turned into more of a “jump” at times.

“We call him ‘The Flying Squirrel,'” Parrish said with a laugh. “It takes a while for him to wear out. He’s got all of that puppy spirit and personality. He’s adorable.”

The dog walking program at WCGHS provides canines and humans alike with exercise, companionship and a fun activity to look forward to.

“When the walkers walk into the room, the dogs immediately perk up because they associate the volunteer with going on a walk,” said WCGHS dog care manager April Nicholas. “They definitely know what’s coming.”

The program currently has eight full-time volunteer dog-walkers, most of whom volunteer for walking duty several times a week. Right now, five dogs are living at the WCGHS shelter in Washougal while they wait for their “forever homes.”

“Anything we can do to get the dogs physically and mentally stimulated, and keep their stress down, we definitely want to do that,” Nicholas said. “We want to make sure they’re well-balanced for their future forever home, and have human connections and exposure to things. It’s (nice) to get them out there and figure out what scares them or what they need to work on so that we can tell their adopters, ‘This is where they may need a little extra help.'”

Most of the time, the walkers stay close to the WCGHS shelter on Index Street in Washougal, with the nearby Columbia River Dike Trail providing volunteers with a scenic view and dogs with plenty of room to explore. With proper training, volunteers can also take dogs for hikes at further-away locations such as Beacon Rock.

Prospective dog-walkers go through a training process, led by Parrish and her husband, Fred Parrish.

“I’ll take as many walkers as I can get because, honestly, the more we get the dogs out, the better,” Nicholas said. “If people wanted to walk them from open to close, that would be fine. But now we’ve got a few days (with) two shifts, so (sometimes) they are getting out there twice a day, but at least once a day they get out and walk.”

The Parrishes have been walking dogs for WCGHS for several years. Usually Fred Parrish, a runner, handles bigger dogs, while Jeannie Parrish takes care of smaller canines.

On the morning of Sept. 6, Fred Parrish walked with Loki, a full-grown shepherd-husky mix.

“I try to take the bigger, more energetic dogs for a run to expend some energy,” he said. “I like it because I get to run, it keeps me in better shape — I’m a soccer referee — and I enjoy dogs. The dogs get enjoyment from it as well. They get human connection and some exercise.”

During the winter months, the Parrishes live in Hawaii, where they volunteer at a dog shelter.

“This gives us our dog fix without having to worry about what to do when we travel,” Jeannie said. “It’s awesome. It’s really important for the dogs to get outside for some exercise and human contact. I like the exercise, the camaraderie with the other people and (the dogs). What’s not to love, right?”

Cindy Cunningham, a Washougal resident, walked Brooklyn, an American pit bull terrier, on the morning of Sept. 6. For Cunningham, a nurse who works the graveyard shift, walking the shelter dogs serves as a soothing way to relax after a long, sometimes stressful night.

“I love it because this is all the dogs have,” Cunningham said. “They sit in the shelter for who knows how long, so walking is the highlight of their day. I like knowing they’re going to have a better day, and showing them that somebody cares for them.”

Cunningham described the Washougal animal shelter as a sort of family.

“Everybody’s there for one main purpose — to give each individual animal what they need and show them there’s more than a 4-by-4 (foot) box,” she said, adding that the walks also serve as a good form of exposing the dogs to potential adoptive families.

Nicholas smiled as she relayed a story about a dachshund named Abby, a recent WCGHS resident.

“She was walking the dike with one of our walkers and someone up there saw her and recognized her because her original owner used to walk her through town every single day,” Nicholas said. “He went home, got his wife, came back and adopted her. Walking can directly lead to adoptions.”

WCGHS fundraiser set for Oct. 12

WCGHS is gearing up for its biggest annual fundraiser.

The “A Tail To Remember” event will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at Warehouse 23 in Vancouver.

“This is a universal cause,” said Peggy DiPrima, WCGHS’ special events manager. “People from all different walks of life have pets and love pets. Having a pet is very personal, and it’s easy to be sympathetic toward animals and love them. We have a lot of volunteers and supporters. This cause reaches peoples’ hearts. It’s not a hard sell.”

The event will feature a cocktail hour, silent auction, dinner, “dessert rush” and live auction.

Tickets cost $75 per person or $750 for a table of 10, and can be purchased at at

Donations are categorized by amount. For example, a contribution of $250 provides behavior consultation and training for a shelter dog, or medications and supplies for a litter of kittens; $500 pays for a minor medical treatment for one pet; and $1,000 pays for a major medical procedure or emergency care for a shelter pet.

“We can’t just rely on adoption fees,” DiPrima said. “The majority of the money that we make, we take in (at this event). We use the money for medical appeal, to treat cats and dogs. They have all kinds of different treatable conditions. They need to get spayed or neutered. They need to get deflead or dewormed. They need surgery. They need checkups. The money that’s raised at this event will offset the care they need to find a good home.”

After raising $80,000 at last year’s event, WCGHS leaders hope to eclipse $100,000 this year.

“I think $100,000 is in reach,” DiPrima said. “Our organization is getting traction and moving in a good direction. I think people are recognizing us more and understanding more about us.”

The biggest change for this year’s event is the venue, a switch necessitated by last year’s crowd of 240 attendees, up from 185 in 2017.

“It’s moved around a bit,” DiPrima said. “We had it at the Hilton (in Vancouver) for a long time, but that became pricey. Last year, we moved it to the Heathman Lodge (in Vancouver), and we liked it there, but since the event grew so much, we maxed out for what it could hold. That was a shame because everybody liked it there. Warehouse 23 is a good fit for us, however.”