Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks to close, and its operator wants to send the dogs to Utah
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Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
Steve Markwell interacts with dogs at his Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks during a visit by a Peninsula Daily News reporter in October.
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People magazine did a 2010 story on Steve Markwell and his dog sanctuary that got him national attention.

By Joe Smillie and Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

Steve Markwell's statement concerning the closure of Olympic Animal Sanctuary

From: Steve Markwell
Date: December 14, 2013
Subject: Statement from OAS

The sole motivation at Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS) has always been to give otherwise hopeless dogs a chance at a decent life.

I started OAS to provide a home for dogs whose behavioral problems required specialized long-term care. These dogs were so dangerous, difficult to handle, or came with such troubling histories that the only other organizations that would accept them did so for the specific purpose of executing them.

Since the only other option was a death sentence, OAS accepted more abused and troubled dogs than I ever planned to. This meant conditions were not perfect, but, nonetheless, the dogs were always fed well, sheltered adequately, and provided veterinary care and expert rehabilitation. Three weeks ago, a vet visited the sanctuary, examined every dog, and verified that they all were having their health and medical needs appropriately met.

Beginning a year ago, a disgruntled ex-volunteer whom I fired partnered with extreme “animal rights” groups that oppose all no kill sanctuaries to put OAS out of operation, get our dogs killed, and blame me for it. With the help of the animal rights extremists, she was able to create a social media firestorm that has lasted for a year using false accusations of abuse, neglect, and cover-ups.

Despite allowing the press (such as Peninsula Daily News and Inside Bainbridge), fellow rescuers, and veterinarians inside OAS' facility to disprove the allegations, the anti-OAS campaigns have ignored the evidence that the claims against us are false. This is largely because the main goals of our opponents – discrediting me personally and killing OAS' dogs – have nothing to do with the conditions the dogs live in.

The campaign against OAS has become so extreme that anyone who has ever been affiliated with me has been on the receiving end of countless harassing phone calls, e-mails, death threats, and organized campaigns to get them fired from their jobs. A “protester” recently violated a restraining order and was arrested on my property, and now there is a campaign to harass my mother, a woman in her sixties, at her home in California, and to get her fired from her job. My mother resigned from OAS' board of directors in September.

Given the intensity and hysteria of these groups, I sincerely believe that one of their members will snap at any moment and physically hurt someone close to me, or OAS' dogs. I also worry that the damage done to OAS' reputation will prevent it from ever having the fundraising base needed to give these dogs the type of life that I want them to have. Previous attempts to reach out to other no-kill organizations equipped to care for my dogs have been unsuccessful.

For these reasons, I am offering to transfer OAS' dogs to the one organization with the resources to take appropriate care of them: Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends is a world-renowned no-kill sanctuary that referred a number of OAS' dogs to me in the first place. They have the staff, expertise, land, financial resources, and philosophy to give OAS' dogs the best chance they can ever have for a good life.

If Best Friends and their no-kill partners will agree to take OAS' dogs, care for them for their entire natural lives, and not transfer them to any other person or organization unequipped to provide the specialized care they require, my attorney will negotiate the details with them. Once the specifics are arranged, I will transfer the dogs and dissolve Olympic Animal Sanctuary.

I think this gives OAS' dogs the best chance they will ever have of happy and healthy lives. I strongly encourage Best Friends to accept this offer, and I encourage everyone – OAS supporters, opponents, and everyone in between – to contact Best Friends and ask them to take these dogs. They can be reached at:

Phone: (435) 644-2001

Web: www.bestfriends.org

Email: info@bestfriends.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bestfriendsanimalsociety

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bestfriends

I want to make clear that this transfer will be jeopardized if the anti-OAS groups continue to encourage harassment and threats against innocent parties such as my mother, friends, and ex-board members. I am making this offer to increase the safety of OAS' dogs and those close to me, and I will not continue to engage if I feel like it is only inflaming the dangerously disturbed personalities that are threatening citizens simply for trying to help the dogs.

In closing, I want to restate that the sole motivation at OAS has always been to give otherwise hopeless dogs a chance at a decent life. I hope Best Friends accepts my offer and does just that.

Steve Markwell
Founder and Executive Director of Olympic Animal Sanctuary

FORKS –– Citing weariness with protests, the owner of the embattled Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks announced plans Saturday to close up shop and wants to transfer the dogs inside the industrial building to a larger animal sanctuary based in Utah.

Steve Markwell, director of the sanctuary specializing in care of dangerous dogs, said in an email announcement that he is planning to make an offer to Best Friends Animal Society to take the 125 dogs currently kept in his 4,000-square-foot pink warehouse at 1021 Russell Road in Forks.

“I am offering to transfer OAS's dogs to the one organization with the resources to take appropriate care of them: Best Friends Animal Society,” Markwell said in the email.

“Best Friends is a world-renowned no-kill sanctuary that referred a number of OAS's dogs to me in the first place.”

[Markwell's full statement can be read on the PDN's website, www.peninsuladailynews.com.]

But Barbara Williamson, media relations manager for the society, said her group has not had discussions with Markwell about transferring the dogs.

“At this point, we haven't even been contacted,” Williamson said.

Best Friend Animal Society operates a shelter in Kanab, Utah, on 3,700 acres of land, according to the organization's website.

Markwell's announcement came a day after Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer ruled that Markwell was not properly served notice of a court hearing in which Seattle-based Animal Aid and Rescue Foundation, or AARF, sought to have a pit bull returned.

The ruling meant the dog, named LeRoy, can stay in the Forks sanctuary for at least another week.

“In reading the declaration, it seems clear that there was no documentation handed to Mr. Markwell,” Rohrer told the foundation's attorney, Adam Karp of Bellingham.

Markwell's sanctuary has been the scene of round-the-clock protests since Dec. 3.

Since then, Forks police have arrested both Markwell and Tamira Thayne, an animal rescue organization founder from Virginia who says she is protesting for the return of a chow-mix dog named Sonny her organization placed in Markwell's care.

There were no demonstrations at the Clallam County Courthouse during the Friday afternoon court hearing.

The foundation placed LeRoy with Markwell under a foster arrangement in 2009.

AARF President Heather Enajibi filed suit Nov. 19 to have the dog returned, claiming Markwell has not provided “adequate and humane” care for LeRoy as spelled out in the agreement.

Rohrer agreed to put the matter back on the calendar for this Friday.


Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 15. 2013 9:11AM
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