Death of petting-zoo donkey strengthened animal-abuse law

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A puppy dragged behind a car for half a mile.

A cat stabbed 22 times.

A thousand starved, dehydrated chickens found dead in their cages.

All three cases of animal abuse, and dozens more, have one thing in common: The people responsible were prosecuted under a 7-year-old state law that makes animal cruelty a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

And for that, they can look to the case of another animal that suffered at the hands of humans: a petting-zoo donkey named Pasado.

The donkey with the gentle personality was a favorite attraction for 19 years at Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue where children rode him, toddlers petted him and 4-H members took turns caring for him.

Ten years ago today, on the night of April 15, 1992, Pasado was beaten and tortured by three young men who climbed into his corral with a noose, sticks and a metal bar. They later told police it was a prank that got out of hand, they just wanted to ride the donkey.

Pasado was found the next morning tied to a tree, with a broken skull and wounds on his body and strangled with the rope.

The animal's death became a cause célèbre that prompted legislative action. The public was outraged both by the crime and the fact that the perpetrators, ages 16, 18 and 20, faced only misdemeanor charges, the maximum at that time.

"We had been trying to get that changed for many years," said Nancy McKenney, executive director of the Seattle/King County Humane Society. "We weren't savvy enough to get it changed before, but Pasado's death motivated a lot of groups and agencies."

For more information

Pasado's Safe Haven can be reached at P.O. Box 171, Sultan, WA, or 360-793-9393.
Pasado's Law, as it became known, created a new crime of first-degree animal cruelty. The case also left another visible legacy, a sprawling Sultan shelter for neglected and abused animals called Pasado's Safe Haven, founded by former television personality Susan Michaels, who helped push for the legislation after the donkey's death.

The law has definitely helped, said Vicki Schmitz, spokeswoman for King County Animal Control.

"We just used it in December," she said, when someone dragged a dog behind a car. "The dog was so badly injured the police drove it directly to our shelter."

The owner was prosecuted under the state law, Schmitz said.

"Prior to Pasado's Law, animal abuse was a slap on the wrist," she said.

The prosecutions of animal-abuse cases are beginning to make a difference, say animal-rights activists.

• In July 2000, an Auburn woman was sentenced to six months in jail and a year of probation for nearly killing a 7-month-old puppy by dragging it behind a car for a half-mile.

• In December, 2000, an Everett chicken farmer was fined $500, required to perform 200 hours of community service and ordered not to keep farm animals for two years.

• An 18-year-old Kent man, the first felony conviction under Pasado's Law, was sentenced to nine months in jail in 1995 for stabbing a cat 22 times. Later that year, a Snohomish County man was sentenced to one year in prison for burning a kitten in an oven.

"I'm amazed that even now when new legislators come they remember the Pasado Law," said state Rep. Steve Van Luven, R-Bellevue, who wrote the original bill. "Pasado touched the hearts of people around the state, the country and the world."

Norm Maleng vividly remembers the Pasado case.

"In all my years as the King County prosecutor, there has been no case that prompted as much outrage," said Maleng. "We received more than 300 letters and 800 phone calls."

Now his office handles five to 10 animal-cruelty cases a year, many of them in juvenile court where there are resources to get counseling and help for the perpetrators.

Ten years ago, Maleng added, people were just beginning to make the connection that childhood animal abuse can be an early predictor that can escalate to violence against humans. FBI studies indicate that serial rapists and killers often had been cruel to animals first.

Last year, 1,677 animal-abuse cases were reported across the nation, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

To Michaels, one case is one too many and stricter laws are still needed. The former news anchor traded her Bellevue home and Porsche for a double-wide trailer in rural Snohomish County when she and her husband, Mark Steinway, started Pasado's Safe Haven.

She said she frequently runs into understaffed law-enforcement agencies, particularly in rural areas, which don't have the staff to pursue animal-cruelty cases.

This year, Michaels and Steinway lobbied in Olympia for two more animal bills, neither of which passed. One called for routine inspections of chicken farms and the other was to strengthen Pasado's Law to rewrite the definition of neglect, so officials don't have to wait as long to show that an animal has been neglected.

Diane Webber of Poulsbo, president of the Washington State Federation of Animal Care and Control Agencies, remembers how animal abuse used to be treated in the courts. Animals on a farm near Yakima were so emaciated and neglected, she said, that the skin and flesh were sloughing off one mare's chest. Rescue groups removed herds from the horse farm twice in two years.

"That was before Pasado's Law," Webber said. "The woman only served a few months in jail."

Sherry Grindeland can be reached at 206-515-5633 or