Annual humane society fundraiser goes virtual

West Columbia Gorge Humane Society's 'Hike on the Dike' event will be held online through June 30

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As part of this year's West Columbia Gorge Humane Society's "Hike on the Dike" virtual event, local residents are encouraged to submit photos of their pets for weekly prizes. (Submitted photo courtesy of West Columbia Gorge Humane Society)

The West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS) usually encourages community members to “hike on the dike” for its annual spring fundraising event, but this year, the organization is asking people to “hike where they like.”

The WCGHS’ Hike on the Dike 5K Walk and Festival has moved to a virtual format because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is still attracting plenty of support — and financial donations — from local animal enthusiasts.

“We’re trying different things to get people engaged and bring value to them in different ways,” said WCGHS executive director Megan Dennis. “It’s so different this year because we obviously couldn’t have a live event, and a lot of people were disappointed, but we’re trying to figure out different ways to connect with people in a meaningful way and make it fun.”

Fundraising activities began May 16, and will conclude on June 30.

“When (the pandemic) first hit us, we took a step back and said, ‘We don’t know what this is going to look like, so let’s assume that we’ll have to go virtual so that we’ll have some plan in place in case we need one,'” said WCGHS development manager Peggy DiPrima. “We kind of just started opening our eyes and ears to what other people were doing. We had just purchased an online peer-to-peer fundraising platform, and we were planning on using that for ‘Hike on the Dike’ anyway, so we just said, ‘Oh my gosh, we better jump into this with both feet and really learn this platform and learn how to do online fundraising in a meaningful way.’ So we did.”

To participate, people can make a donation to the WCGHS; request financial contributions from friends and family members to earn prizes; or submit photographs from their animal-walking outings to enter into a drawing for a gift basket.

Each week’s top fundraiser wins a $20 coupon to K&M Drive-In; the top overall individual fundraiser will win Young Living Essential Oil pet products and $100 in gift cards; and each member of the top fundraising team will receive a commemorative medal.

“People really want to help our organization,” said WCGHS board president Micki Simeone. “With COVID-19, they can’t get out to physically volunteer, but we realize that as long as we provide a path for people to give, and that they understand the benefit of their donation, they do really become engaged. They can go outside and walk as long they’re 6 feet apart and follow guidelines, or they can walk at home on  their treadmill. This way gives them more flexibility. They can feel like they accomplished something and are doing something good for the community, and they’re having a lot of fun with that.”

As of Monday, June 15, the event had raised $11,688.79, well on its way to hitting its goal of $15,000.

“We said, ‘How can we make Hike on the Dike still be fun and community-building, and be a fundraiser at the same time?'” DiPrima said. “We’re trying to keep it fun as we can while all being separated. I’m super pleased with the reaction that we’ve gotten from our donors and supporters, because this is a new thing, and we’re all learning.”

WCGHS started Hike on the Dike in 2009 to help support its work to take in, care for and rehome homeless pets in the Camas-Washougal community. The event wasn’t held in 2017 and 2018, but returned last year.

“Last year we had 250 registered walkers, so it was a great comeback. We thought that we could bump that number up this year, but then COVID-19 hit, and we were like, ‘Whoa. How do we set new measurables, and how do we find success?’” Simeone said. “We were able to do that, and people are responding and letting us know that we have loyal supporters out there. Next year, God willing, we will be able to have a live event, but we will absolutely continue the peer-to-peer fundraising because it allows more people to donate.”

As of Monday, June 15, the event had attracted 95 donors and 28 “fundraisers.”

“People want to get back together, they want to be doing something and they want to participate,” DiPrima said. “This is their event. There are people who love this event and want to come to this event, and we certainly didn’t want them to feel that we weren’t going to have it this year. We had taken some years off and came back, and we didn’t want (people to say), ‘Is it happening? Is it not happening?’ We did have quite a few people say to us, ‘You are still going to have something, right?’ The fact that so many people have signed up is a real positive sign.”