Forks settles back down after year of Olympic Animal Sanctuary protests
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Laurie Johnson, right, points out Forks’ famous Twilight stops to sisters Angie and Jessy Cheever of Payette, Ida., at the Chamber of Commerce visitors center. — Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS –– When a regular customer teased Forks Coffee Shop waitress Michelle Steward over lunch recently, it was a welcome return to a familiar scene in a town once spotlighted during animal rights protests.

“I was going to say it's nice to be back to normal, but then he walked in,” Steward joked in response to her heckler.

For more than a year and especially throughout December, Forks was besieged by criticism as animal rights activists staged protests urging city officials to order the closure of Olympic Animal Sanctuary, a home for dangerous dogs founded and run by Steve Markwell in a pink warehouse at 1021 Russell Road.

Protesters had come from outside Forks fueled by a Facebook campaign that showed photos depicting dogs living in travel crates and which were said to have been taken inside by former volunteers and Forks police.

Critics said Markwell housed the animals in inhumane conditions at his 5,120-square-foot warehouse. Markwell denied any mistreatment.

Life in Forks has settled back to normal in the weeks since Markwell abruptly loaded a reported 124 dogs into the back of a 53-foot climate-controlled trailer Dec. 21 and drove them to Golden Valley, Ariz.

He arrived on Christmas Eve at the Rescued Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation shelter and surrendered control of the dogs to New York-based Guardians of Rescue.

The dogs were reportedly in fair condition, with some malnourished and suffering muscle atrophy.

Comments about Markwell continue to be passed around on Facebook sites, but protesters' visits and calls to Forks have died down.

“I have to say, I am glad that has passed,” Mayor Bryon Monohon said. “It got really heated, and now I just hope everybody is able to settle down.

Now, horse owners purchase electric fence supplies at True Value hardware store, regulars order their regular orders at the Forks Coffee Shop, and fans of the Twilight franchise of novels and movies stop to check out sites mentioned in the Twilight saga series of vampire novels set there.

Among the visitors were sisters Jessy and Angie Cheever of Payette, Idaho, who checked in at the Forks Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center at 1411 S. Forks Ave. to map out a Twilight tour.

“I love those books. It's one of those that I can pull out again and again,” Angie Cheever said.

Laurie Johnson, who staffs the visitor center on weekends, said a few dog shelter protesters stopped in while the protests were intensifying in December.

Since Markwell left, though, Twilight fans, Hoh Rain Forest visitors and beachcombers have been the primary visitors at the center.

“We've had a lot of Twilight fans come in over the last couple weeks,” Johnson said.

For most of 2013, city offices were flooded with phone calls and emails from Markwell's critics.

Rod Fleck, the city's attorney and planner, said those calls and emails virtually stopped after Markwell left.

“It went from 40 or 50 a day to now maybe one or two,” Fleck said earlier this month.

Markwell had founded the sanctuary in 2004 to be a home for dogs considered unadoptable by families because the animals were too aggressive.

Police investigated Markwell in the fall of 2012. Officer Julie Goode wrote a citation for second-degree animal cruelty. It was never issued.

Protesters had called for boycotts on Forks businesses and called city officials corrupt.

Police Administrator Rick Bart reported receiving threatening calls on his personal phone as the effort to have the sanctuary closed intensified and more protesters came to Forks to demonstrate outside the warehouse and at City Hall.

Maggie McDowell, a protest organizer from Seattle, repeatedly discredited those who threatened city officials and businesses.

She said the only goal of the protests was to help find better lives for the dogs.

Steward said the coffee shop at 241 S. Forks Ave. was targeted by protesters because Markwell was a regular customer and staff posted signs in support of Olympic Animal Sanctuary in windows fronting Forks Avenue.

“I mean, they targeted here because he ate here and we had a sign in the window,” Steward said. “Seriously?”

The day after Markwell left with the dogs, Steward said, masked protesters came into the coffee shop, taking video footage of the building's interior and tearing down the support signs from the front window.

A video of her asking the protesters to leave was posted online.

“It was that day, the day after he had gone and they were in here harassing us, that I went, 'You know, this isn't about the dogs anymore,'” Steward said.

“They were targeting the whole town. And that wasn't fair,” Steward said. “Just because we're a tight-knit community and we band together.”

She noted that food and donation drives sponsored by locals to get supplies to the dogs after outside donations started to dwindle.

While some businesses like the coffee shop were targeted by demonstrators, other business owners said the protests had little impact.

“On this end of town, we barely even knew there was a protest going on,” said Bob Stark, manager of True Value at 10 S. Forks Ave.

Stark had a long relationship with Markwell and the sanctuary, with his store a drop spot for food and straw drives sponsored by Markwell's supporters during the protest.

In a letter to the editor in the Jan. 2 edition of the Forks Forum, McDowell said, now that Markwell has left and the protests have ended, the city and state governments need to work on crafting standards and rules for keeping animals in the city limit.

The city now is working to draw up a new animal control ordinance, Fleck said.

Work on revisions to the ordinance have been ongoing for more than the past year, with Markwell contributing suggestions to the process.

The city is looking to build tighter rules on citizens who plan to keep large numbers of animals, including license requirements that would lay out minimum standards of care and require regular inspections by city officials, Fleck said.

“We're trying to clean it up, like we've been trying to do all along,” he said.

“The key ingredient in any ordinance is that you just have to have time.”

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

Last modified: January 16. 2014 7:33PM
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