Tax error leaves Puyallup animal shelter at risk of closure

PUYALLUP, Wash. -- An animal shelter in Puyallup needs to quickly come up with a lot of money or risk closure.

"If we close, I don't know what will happen 'cause I get calls everyday of people of people trying to surrender their dog or they need help with their dogs," said Jessica Mele.

Sunny Sky's Animal Rescue owes $33,000 in back property taxes. Shelter founder Dr. Ilina Berton says the outstanding tax bill grew out of confusion and misunderstandings over the organization's non-profit status. Her building houses the East Main Animal Hospital and she later added the shelter.

"The shelter is nonprofit, the clinic is considered a for profit," Berton said.

Berton says when starting the 501(c)(3) application process, Pierce County officials told her non-profits were exempt from property taxes. They didn't pay, taxes mounted, and this week the mortgage company stepped in.

"The mortgage company has decided to call in the note, that means they can basically take charge and sell this at any time," Mele said.

Now they're faced with mortgage payments, back taxes, and finding a new place to handle their 55 animals up for adoption. In all, they need about $200,000 to survive.

"We have broken leg dogs, broken hip dogs, older dogs, dogs that normally wouldn't be your first pick if you were taking rescue dogs," Mele said.

They've raised a few thousand and are asking businesses and Facebook friends for more. Many of Sunny Sky's dogs were already rescued once from high kill shelters in Los Angeles and the staff plans to find them foster families if they don't find them homes or a new shelter first.

One donor did offer a piece of land, but it turns out the property isn't zoned to handle a clinic and shelter.