Forks shelter dogs now owned by N.Y.-based organization
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Two unidentified volunteers help erect additional outdoor kennels in Golden Valley, Ariz., on Saturday to hold the dogs which Guardians of Rescue took custody of from Forks-based Olympic Animal Sanctuary. —Guardians of Rescue photo

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

GOLDEN VALLEY, Ariz. — The New York-based animal rescue group that has been organizing the care and examinations of 124 dogs from Olympic Animal Sanctuary in an unincorporated Arizona community now owns the animals, the group’s president said Saturday as he announced the location of the dogs.

“We officially have legal possession of the dogs” that Olympic Animal Sanctuary director Steve Markwell had kept in Forks, said Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue.

“There’s absolutely zero funds that did change, or will change, hands whatsoever from Guardians of Rescue to Steve Markwell or the Olympic Animal Sanctuary organization,” he added.

The dogs are being kept at the Rescued Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation, or RUFFF, shelter in Golden Valley, Ariz., Misseri said, with volunteers from the shelter working the past few days to build additional outdoor fenced kennels to house the dogs.

Golden Valley is an unincorporated community in Mohave County, Ariz., about 23 miles east of Bullhead City.

Misseri said about half the dogs had been examined by a local veterinarian and his staff as of Saturday.

“The total assessment of the health [of the dogs] is taking longer than expected,” Misseri said.

Dental examinations of some of the dogs has proved difficult, for example, because of their demeanor, Misseri said.

“Some of the dogs will not let you in their mouths,” Misseri said.

Misseri declined to comment on individual animal’s conditions until he could get detailed information from the veterinarian.

All the dogs are still alive, he said.

“Every dog will get any medication that we deem necessary,” Misseri said.

Markwell, director of the Forks-based Olympic Animal Sanctuary, is still at the Golden Valley shelter and is expected to leave Monday, Misseri said.

“He’s not discussed it with us,” Misseri said when asked if he knows what Markwell intends to do next.

Markwell did not return a call seeking comment Saturday.

Markwell left Dec. 21 from his Forks-based sanctuary, driving a 53-foot tractor-trailer loaded with the crated animals and arrived with them to the shelter near the Nevada-Arizona border on Tuesday afternoon.

At Olympic Animal Sanctuary, dogs Markwell described as not “realistically adoptable” because of their behavior were housed in a 5,120-square-foot warehouse at 1021 Russell Road in Forks.

With the dogs now the responsibility of Guardians of Rescue, Misseri said the goal is to find shelters able to handle the dogs’ specific needs with the additional criterion that the dogs will not be euthanized.

“The dogs will remain [in the Golden Valley shelter] under the guidance of Guardians of Rescue until all those dogs are placed in forever places,” Misseri said, referring to shelters that have “no-kill” policies or individual homes.

An agreement with other shelters to take any number of dogs will include a stipulation that the dogs would be returned to Guardians of Rescue if the shelter cannot care for the animal or animals, Misseri explained.

“[That’s a] standard rescue-to-rescue agreement,” he said.

The RUFFF shelter is “at capacity,” Misseri said, adding that the facility would “probably not” be able to be a forever place for the dogs.

A representative of the Golden Valley shelter could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The shelter sits on 30 acres, is managed by about a dozen volunteer staff and houses dogs, cats, pigs and goats, Misseri said.

The shelter has rescued more than 10,000 companion animals, with more than 9,800 being adopted since the facility opened in January 2000, according to the shelter’s website,

Misseri said he wanted to find a shelter in a warm climate that had the ability to house 124 dogs in the outdoors.

Markwell and Guardians of Rescue had been in contact since November about moving groups of dogs at a time from the Forks shelter when Markwell put the dogs in a tractor trailer and headed south.

“We had no knowledge whatsoever [of Markwell planning to leave],” Misseri said.

“It was a total shock to us.”

In past interviews, Markwell had cited increasing pressure from protesters who had been gathering at Olympic Animal Sanctuary since early December to protest what they said were the sanctuary’s inhumane conditions.

Photos depicting dogs living in travel crates purported to have been taken inside by former volunteers and Forks police have been at the center of a nationwide Facebook campaign to shut it down for more than a year.

Markwell has denied mistreating the animals.

The Olympic Animal Sanctuary property is owned by Diane Hawkins of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., according to the Clallam County Assessor’s Office.

The land is valued at $32,500 and the 5,120 square-foot building in which the dogs were housed is valued at $66,640, according to the Assessor’s Office.

“By [Markwell] leaving with those dogs, we stepped up, and we’re not sorry we did,” Misseri said.

“But it’s weighing heavy on the organization, both physically and financially.”

Misseri said Guardians of Rescue has spent more than $15,000 on caring for the dogs in Golden Valley and providing them with outdoor, fenced kennels.

Misseri said Guardians of Rescue is still seeking donations to help fund food, kennels and veterinarian care for all the animals.

For more information about Guardians of Rescue or to donate funds to help feed, house and distribute the Olympic Animal Sanctuary dogs, phone 888-287-3864 or visit the organization’s website at

Qualified rescue organizations willing to take one or more of the dogs can contact the organization at


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

Senior staff writer Paul Gottlieb and reporter Arwyn Rice contributed to this report.

Last modified: December 28. 2013 5:07PM
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