West Columbia Gorge Humane Society celebrates opening of new cat shelter in Washougal

New building has an intake room, a “sniffles” room, quiet space for older cats, a kitten room, a “catio” and additional space for cats to roam free. 

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Doug Flanagan/Post-Record A West Columbia Gorge Humane Society cat shelter visitor pets a cat on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Three months after opening, the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society’s (WCGHS) new cat shelter is still a work in progress. Walls need to be painted. Windows need to be framed. Supplies need to be unpacked. Some items, too big or awkward-fitting for their allocated spaces, will need to be adjusted or replaced.

But in the big picture, Micki Simeone is just fine with all of it.

“There’s some minor inconveniences,” said Simeone, the Humane Society’s executive director. “We’re cramped in some spaces. But you know what? I don’t even care. We’re back on campus and we’re helping animals. The cats are so much happier. And we’re still not done. We’re finishing work now. But we needed to get in here. We needed to get out of our temporary location and get back here.”

The WCGHS welcomed its supporters to its new cat shelter at 2675 Index St., Washougal, on Saturday, Jan. 21, with a celebratory event that featured snacks, wine, tours, a ribbon-cutting, and of course, an abundance of frolicking felines. 

“It’s great to be back in our Camas-Washougal community,” said Peggy DiPrima, the Humane Society’s director of advancement, development, fundraising and events. “We feel like we’re home. The cats are happier, the people are happier. We got (the chance to) design this building in a way that makes sense for us now and keeps us functioning in a sensible way for years to come. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Simeone said that she is “relieved and grateful” that the shelter is back in Washougal after a 20-month absence necessitated by the discovery of significant roof damage at the Humane Society’s previous cat shelter. 

“We were relieved that we got through it because when (we had to move out), we were terrified,” Simeone said. “I’m grateful for the support of the community, our donors, our community partners like WellHaven Pet Health, the city of Washougal and the Port of Camas-Washougal. And we’re excited. We’re excited for what’s to come. It’s not that our (new) building is that much bigger, but honestly, we really don’t want bigger buildings. We want to move animals faster. We want to take them in, make sure they’re healthy, get them ready for adoption and get them out the door.”

WCGHS leaders discovered a water leak in the roof of its previous cat shelter in January 2021. Contractors told them that repair work would cost $30,000 and possibly more if black mold was discovered in the walls of the facility.

“So the board and I decided that it was time for a new building,” Simeone said. “The (previous) building was an old manufactured home that had been donated by a construction company. It was very old — I think it was from the late 1980s. And so we just said, ‘You know what, we’re going to take a leap of faith. We’re going to do this.’”

In March 2021, they relocated all of their cats to a WellHaven Pet Health animal care facility in Vancouver, where they remained until they moved into the new Washougal facility in November 2022.

“It was so stressful to have to have our staff and all of our cat shelter volunteers constantly commute to Vancouver,” Simeone said. “We had to split our staff, which stressed them out because they’re used to being with each other, and some of our supplies were in Vancouver and some of our supplies were in Washougal.

“We didn’t have the money to hire more people, and we lost some volunteers because they were like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not driving to Vancouver.’ “We had to pay a little bit of rent at WellHaven — not market value, but, you know, we’re not used to paying rent. It was (tough). And the cats (had to be confined at WellHaven) because if they had gotten into the clinic side, that would’ve been bad. One of the stipulations was that the cats couldn’t ‘free roam.’”

Meanwhile, WCGHS leaders were also attempting to secure a new shelter, which they eventually discovered thanks to the assistance of Aries Buildings, a Houston-based portable building company.

“They had this building, which was a portable classroom,” Simeone said. “It was just a wide-open room. It had been used by one of the school districts in Washington, I think up north somewhere. We talked to their sales guy — he was an animal lover — and he was like, ‘I really want to help you guys out. I have a 2017 model, completely refurbished through our warehouse. It’s brand new, but I can sell it to you for a really good price.’ And I know that sounds gimmicky, but seriously, those were words that I just needed to hear. He told me six months ago that he was selling these for $225,000. We got it for $150,000.”

They received additional help from a contractor, who purchased the old shelter and took it away.

“During the pandemic, because rents were so high and real estate was out of control, there was a market for flipping manufactured homes, so we found a ‘flipper,’” Simeone said. “It was a manufactured home, so he took it apart and hauled it out. And he already had a buyer lined up for it. He was like, ‘I can handle (the damage). I’m just going to peck away at this on my own.’’ It was such a blessing. Talk about divine intervention. Everything fell into place.’”

The new building was delivered in June 2022 and installed onto a new foundation by Accuset Construction, a Washougal-based modular installation company.

“They did an amazing job,” Simeone said. “And then our contractor came in. We had a professional space planner do the interior layout for us free, just out of love because he loves animals. We did have to pay to work with an architect to do the foundation and some of the other things. But it all came together.”

The new building has an intake room, a “sniffles” room, quiet space for older cats, a kitten room, a “catio” and additional space for cats to roam free. 

“I love that we have more space,” Simeone said. “It’s not a lot (more). It’s about 600 square feet more. But we were able to design the layout of it. We have a designated intake room. We have a designated isolation room. We have a designated ‘sniffles’ room. And each of those rooms has everything they need to function independently.”

WCGHS used funds from a 2020 bequest for a down payment on the new facility and launched a capital campaign fundraiser with a target of $500,000. As of Saturday, Jan. 21, the Humane Society had collected about $350,000, according to Simeone.

“The grounds have to be restored. Parking has to be restored. But we’re focusing on this building right now and getting what we need in here,” she added. “Yeah, the money keeps coming in so we’re able to pay the bills, but we still have debt that we have to pay ourselves back, because we don’t want to have to take out a loan. So as long as the money keeps coming in — I mean, I would love for $120,000 to drop out of the sky, but we’re OK. We’re OK right now.”

“We have such fabulous donors who want to see us succeed,” DiPrima added. “They know that we’re here to help the animals. That’s what we want to do. We want to help animals live healthy lives, and we want people and pets to come together and stay together. The volunteers, the donors, (have provided) amazing support for us to stay on our mission. Everybody ‘gets’ our mission and knows what’s behind it, which is fantastic.”

For more information about the fundraiser, visit