To the outside world, Susan Michaels was a glammed-up television star, a Seattle personality who always wore a full face of makeup and the occasional evening gown.
But at home, surrounded by the animals whose welfare was her true passion, she was more comfortable in mud-covered jeans and work boots, introducing visitors at Pasado’s Safe Haven to every duck, piglet and goat by name.
“That is the picture of her I will have for the rest of my life,” said Herb Weisbaum, a Pasado’s board member and KOMO News consumer reporter. “Susan with her hair pulled back, in jeans and big boots, slopping around in the mud to make sure the animals were OK.”
With that in mind, friends have spent the four months since her death deciding how best to honor the legacy of Ms. Michaels, a Seattle television reporter who founded the Sultan animal sanctuary and was instrumental in passing several Washington laws that strengthened animal rights.
They’ve established the Susan Michaels Memorial Compassion Fund, which they say will seek to increase awareness of the conditions of animal factories. The fund will be formally announced at her memorial Sunday in Woodinville.
Ms. Michaels died Dec. 21 at her home in Sultan, according to longtime friend Bill Rus. She was 62.
Ms. Michaels joined KING-TV in 1987 and became co-host of “Seattle Today.” She was at the station for three years before she left to start her women’s formal-wear rental business, called A Grand Affair. It was during her time at A Grand Affair that she learned about the plight of Pasado, a beloved Bellevue petting-zoo donkey who was beaten and tortured. The three men charged with Pasado’s death faced only misdemeanor charges.
Ms. Michaels was outraged, her friends said.
She helped push for the state Legislature to pass “Pasado’s Law,” which made animal cruelty a felony. She lobbied the Legislature several times over the years on animal-welfare issues, but she was best known for her role in passing Pasado’s Law.
“She left nothing on the table when it came to fighting for animals,” said Adam Karp, an animal lawyer who worked with Ms. Michaels for two decades. “She was highly focused and vigilant when it came to her mission in life.”
Her love of animals was apparent throughout her career. She was a vegan and once drove a Porsche with the license plate “ban fur.” She convinced friend and former co-worker Penny LeGate to hand out anti-fur brochures outside downtown Seattle shops on Black Fridays. She let a chicken sleep on her bed with her.
Karp said Ms. Michaels influenced his decision to become a vegan 20 years ago. She would also take high-school students to local dairy-cow and cattle auctions, he said, to show them how the animals were treated. The new fund will pay for similar trips and other awareness efforts.
The plight of Pasado was one of the motivations that led Ms. Michaels and her ex-husband, Mark Steinway, in 1997 to found Pasado’s Safe Haven, a sanctuary for neglected and abused animals. Hundreds of animals, like cats rescued from a hoarding situation or a pair of turkeys found in a dumpster, lived there.
Her time there, however, ended when the organization was sued by the state of Washington for misappropriating funds, according to the state Attorney General’s Office. As part of a settlement, the organization agreed to never appoint Ms. Michaels to an executive management position. After that, she focused on the animals she had adopted at her own home.
Along with her work at Pasado’s, she planned Tuxes and Tails, a gala she helped create in 1989 to raise money for the Seattle Humane Society. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, she coordinated the rescue of dozens of animals who had been left starving in the aftermath.
While she was at the organization, Pasado’s received national attention, and Ms. Michaels was profiled on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
“(Pasado’s) is a really, really special place, and it will continue,” Weisbaum said. “She set it on that path, so it will continue to the next generation.”
Ms. Michaels’ memorial is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Hollywood Schoolhouse, 14810 N.E. 145th St., in Woodinville. The event is open to the public.