By Scott North and Jackson Holtz, Herald Writers
MONROE — A high-profile animal-welfare charity is telling supporters it will defend itself against what it describes as a “smear campaign” by people who have been raising questions about the organization’s fundraising practices and oversight.
Pasado’s Safe Haven shared the message on its Web site over the weekend and distributed it on its e-mail list. The posting came as new questions surfaced about Pasado’s fundraising after devastating floods in 2007.
In its Web posting, the nonprofit said it “has recently been targeted by a small group of individuals who are spreading rumors and misinformation about our organization, our founder and the programs we provide.
“Rest assured that we will not tolerate unfounded allegations that seek to destroy all the good this organization has achieved, nor will Pasado’s allow these attacks to distract us from our Mission.
“Pasado’s Safe Haven will defend itself and take appropriate action against the parties and entities that have engaged in a smear campaign against an organization with a decade-plus record of accomplishment for the animals.”
The posting didn’t identify precisely who Pasado’s was talking about.
The nonprofit was the focus of a Herald story earlier this month that detailed concerns of former employees, volunteers and others regarding Pasado’s fundraising and business operations. Pasado’s raised more than $2 million in 2007 alone.
Among the accomplishments Pasado’s lists for itself is providing assistance to animals affected by natural disasters.
Some people in Lewis County want an accounting of how Pasado’s spent money it raised after record flooding along the Chehalis River in December 2007.
High water closed I-5 for days and killed more than 1,100 head of cows and sheep in Lewis County.
Pasado’s raised at least $23,000 after seeking donations to help animals in areas hard hit by the flooding, according to Karin Baker, who up until early this month was Pasado’s administrative director and was responsible for tracking the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. She lost her job at Pasado’s early this month.
People in Lewis County directly involved in flood relief say they received $3,000 from Pasado’s on behalf of animals.
Patty Kaija, president of Friends of Lewis County Animal Shelter, said she was rebuffed when she asked the nonprofit for more assistance. She now wants Pasado’s to explain how it used the rest of the money.
So does Debbie Campbell, director of United Way of Lewis County.
“We needed money for those animals down here. It was so bad,” she said.
Pasado’s Safe Haven leaders would not make themselves available for an interview by The Herald.
They demanded questions in writing. That’s the same position they took earlier this month when the newspaper explored other questions about Pasado’s fundraising practices, including instances when money was collected to pay for animals no longer in the sanctuary’s care or donor money reportedly was not used as advertised.
Kaija oversees a nonprofit that supports her community’s animal shelter. When the floods hit Lewis County, she led efforts getting aid to animals.
“People were not irresponsible,” Kaija said. “They did try to protect their animals. Nobody knew just how bad this was going to be. This wasn’t just a flood. It was a catastrophic event.”
After the high water receded, the most critical need in Lewis County for months was hay to feed livestock, Kaija said. That’s because floodwaters destroyed barns and animal food supplies.
At the time, Pasado’s was using its Web site to collect donor money for flood-relief efforts, including directing people to a Monroe feed store, where they could donate money to purchase hay and feed.
Pasado’s has an account with Monroe Farm &Feed and the business does collect funds on Pasado’s behalf, store vice president Rory Bryant said. Pasado’s decides where the money goes, he said, adding, “There’s no specific earmarks for that money.”
Bryant said he doesn’t recall shipping feed directly after the Lewis County flooding, but said it is possible that Pasado’s may have picked up feed and delivered it themselves.
The animal rescue group spends about $15,000 each year at the store, Bryant said.
“They are feeding a lot of animals,” he said.
Kaija provided the newspaper with checks that show Pasado’s on Jan. 11, 2008, sent $1,000 to help pay for hay, and later that month split the proceeds from a benefit concert that raised another $2,000. That money went to the Washington Farm Bureau for flood relief, Kaija said.
Kaija also provided the newspaper with e-mails documenting what happened in February 2008 when she approached Pasado’s asking for help in purchasing more hay.
Kaija said one of the founders of the charity, Susan Michaels, called and told her Pasado’s planned to offer assistance only to animal owners who could prove they were low-income.
She tried to convince Michaels that income restrictions were meaningless because the damage from flooding was so severe, she said.
“The flood did not choose between a trailer and a big house,” Kaija said.
She said she told Michaels at the time, “There are animals suffering here and we have to help them and we aren’t helping animals based on the financial means of their owners before the flood.”
The situation was dire, Kaija said.
“We didn’t know where the next load of hay was going to come from,” she said. “I would lay awake at night and wonder how I was going to help those animals the next day.”
Michaels did not respond to phone calls, e-mails and certified mail from The Herald seeking an opportunity to ask questions about the flood-relief effort. Other voting members of the Pasado’s board of directors also did not respond to e-mails.
On Feb. 2, 2008, Kaija said she received an e-mail from Michaels about flood-relief efforts.
Pasado’s had by then raised $16,305 for flood relief and was helping provide costly veterinary care for dogs it had removed from the flood area, the e-mail from Michaels said.
Pasado’s helped coordinate pet food donations to animal shelters in the flood zone and also sent money to help support dogs living on the Quinault Indian Reservation on the Washington Coast, Michaels wrote.
“I offered Pasado’s Safe Haven to pay for hay to any low-income individual,” she added. “I am sorry that we choose not not (sic) to support those who can afford to pay for their animals. We cannot justify that if someone has an equestrian farm or an expensive property that a non-profit step in and pick-up the costs of feeding their animals. We need to justify every penny we spend to our donors and although you questioned Pasado’s generosity, we choose to support those who cannot afford to feed their animals.”
Kaija within the week wrote Pasado’s, again asking the nonprofit for $7,500 to pay for hay for animals in Lewis County and neighboring communities. She showed the newspaper a reply e-mail from Michaels, who again said assistance would only be available to low-income animal owners.
“We could also offer a free spay/neuter and veterinary assistance program using The Spay Station, if you assess this could help,” Michaels wrote. “Regardless, we’d like to do this. Never can ‘fix’ enough animals — which, in the end, lowers your shelter population, too. Let me know. And thanks for all the work you do.”
Farmers were hit particularly hard by the flooding, said Ron Mauel, president of the Lewis County Farm Bureau. The local farm bureau raised more than $250,000, and every penny went into relief efforts, he said.
“We ran short on funds,” Mauel said. “We could have always used more.”