People make charitable donations because of what they feel in their hearts. They are wise when they also use their heads.
In the nonprofit world, what you see and hear isn’t always so.
Pasado’s Safe Haven, one of Snohomish County’s highest-
profile charities, was in the news last week after three dead animals were found stripped of their skins along a south King County roadside. The Sultan-based animal welfare group suggested they were mutilated dogs. Turns out they were raccoons, likely killed by hunters.
Most reports last week focused on Pasado’s role in the case. Absent from those stories, however, was any mention that Pasado’s is operating under a 2010 consent decree the state Attorney General’s Office sought to force reforms in the group’s fund-raising and business practices. Fixing those problems has created a lot of behind-the-scenes drama for the organization.Pasado’s operates an animal-rehabilitation compound between Sultan and Monroe. The nonprofit reported $6.8 million in assets in 2009. For years, representatives also have dabbled at freelance animal-cruelty investigations. The practice is a mixed bag for those whose job it is to handle such cases. Amateur investigators have no legal standing to gather evidence or to secure it for use in prosecutions.
Pasado’s collected the carcasses found last week, saying they had permission. According to news reports, a Pasado’s spokeswoman said the bodies likely were those of Golden Retriever puppies. The group offered a $5,000 reward for information.
The reports made the TV morning news. People were upset. What sort of sicko would go around skinning puppies?
“Okay everyone….deep breath!” King County sheriff’s Sgt. John Urquhart said in an email sent to crime reporters a few hours after the story broke.
He suggested the skinned animals probably were coyotes. They were found in a part of Washington where people still hunt, trap and skin animals for their fur.
The sheriff’s department retrieved the carcasses for its own testing and concluded they were raccoons.
Pasado’s has a long history of inserting itself in high-profile animal cruelty cases and leveraging that into donations. My colleague Jackson Holtz joined me in a 2009 investigation detailing the group’s practices over the years. That work emboldened witnesses and watchdogs to take their concerns to the state. State attorneys investigated and negotiated for 16 months. There were changes in leadership at Pasado’s. Last month, the charity filed a lawsuit against one of its founders, asking the court’s help in exercising full control over assets the nonprofit says it owns.
Pasado’s is a well-meaning organization and a lot of people like its mission. Last year it was even one of the charities to benefit from a fund raising campaign at Seattle-area Whole Foods stores.
The assistant state attorney general who handled the case, Shannon Smith, told me last fall that the consent decree was designed to ensure that Pasado’s will stand a good chance of avoiding problems moving forward.
Check up on Washington’s charities here.