State suit charges now-defunct Forks dog sanctuary violated charity rules

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES –– Steve Markwell and Olympic Animal Sanctuary have been sued by the state Attorney General, who says Markwell failed to register the sanctuary as a charity and failed to show how donations made to the now-defunct dog shelter in Forks were spent.

Claiming he received more than $300,000 in donations he solicited without registering as a charity with the state Secretary of State’s office — and that he did not provide an accounting of those funds — Sarah Shifley, assistant attorney general, filed suit against Markwell this morning in Clallam County Superior Court.

The state is asking the court to order Markwell, who is now living in Forks, to repay donations, penalize him $2,000 for each of the state’s five charges of criminal wrongdoing and issue an injunction permanently barring him from operating the sanctuary.

“Olympic Animal Sanctuary failed to account for how charitable money was spent,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a press release.

After an investigation that began last December, the state filed five charges against Markwell, saying he violated the Charitable Solicitations Act.

The state said that he solicited donations without registration, failed to file annual solicitation reports, failed to maintain books and records and has two counts of failure to make required disclosures in website solicitations.

Markwell ran Olympic Animal Sanctuary from 2006 until Dec. 21, 2013, when he packed the 124 dogs he had in his warehouse shelter at 1021 Russell Road into the back of a semi trailer.

After three days on the road, Markwell turned the dogs over to New York-based animal rescue organization Guardians of Rescue at a makeshift shelter in the Arizona desert on Christmas Eve.

The last 18 of those dogs were recently adopted by a California rescue agency, the Peninsula Daily News reported yesterday.

But while he received nonprofit status from the federal Internal Revenue Service in 2007, Markwell didn’t register as a nonprofit in Washington state until April 24, 2013, the state’s suit alleges.

The suit says he raised $93,576 in 2009, $115,386 in 2010 and $151,220 in 2011 without informing donors he was not a registered charity in the state, a requirement, according to the suit, of the Charitable Solicitations Act.

The state also alleges Markwell never filed annual solicitation reports with the Secretary of State.

Markwell ran the sanctuary as a home for “dogs you’d rather see dead.”

Many of them, he said, had been condemned to death by courts around the country, and he took them in as an alternative to euthanasia.

His sanctuary was featured in national media outlets, including People magazine and the Los Angeles Times and even said he had a reality television show in the works at one point.

Last year, the Olympic Animal Sanctuary came under fire from animal rights activists who said the animals were mistreated.

Protesters stood vigil outside his place in November and December until Markwell drove off with the dogs packed into crates he built in the back of a semi owned by the sanctuary in the middle of the night.

Ferguson’s office directed those with concerns about Markwell and the Olympic Animal Sanctuary to contact Clallam County Animal Control at 360-417-2459 or the Forks Police Department at 360-374-2223.

Markwell is scheduled to appear in District Court in Forks at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday for a jury trial on a misdemeanor malicious mischief charge against him stemming from December, when he allegedly kicked the car of a protestor outside the sanctuary.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at

Last modified: July 29. 2014 1:31PM
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