Forks drafts new animal-control ordinance in response to dog sanctuary flap; pet ownership would be limited
Protesters of the practices of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary, background, hold signs last year that include demanding that the city of Forks step in legally. City Hall now is reviewing its animal-control laws. —Photo by Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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City officials began considering such an ordinance when allegations of abuse and neglect at the now-defunct Olympic Animal Sanctuary, operated by Steve Markwell, were brought to the city, said Rod Fleck, city attorney.
“In all that, people asked why we didn’t have a rule. We began to ask ourselves what such an ordinance would look like,” Fleck said.
Fleck said the City Council received the first draft of the ordinance two weeks ago, and it is not yet scheduled for more discussion.
Markwell, president of Olympic Animal Sanctuary, ran the “last chance” sanctuary for dogs for several years before animal-rights activists alleged that conditions inside the facility had declined and that dogs were starving and living in squalid conditions.
In December, following a series of protests against his shelter, Markwell left Forks with 124 dogs and turned the animals over to the New York-based Guardians of Rescue at a temporary shelter set up on land owned by Rescued Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation in Golden Valley, Ariz.
The last 18 of those dogs were adopted Sunday, according to a Facebook announcement by Guardians of Rescue.
Markwell recently returned to Forks and is living in the pink warehouse where the sanctuary was located.
He has several dogs and is possibly keeping snakes, Forks Police Chief Rick Bart said Monday.
“He refuses to tell us how many he has,” he said.
Under current Forks laws, there is no limit for pet ownership.
Fleck said that if and when the new ordinance is enacted, the city will have a method to investigate and manage situations before they get out of hand.
“If he’s licensed for 15 animals, and someone says he has 32, he must allow an inspection,” Fleck said.
At this time, it is not known how many animals Markwell has, and there are no current residents who are known to have more animals than the proposed limits, he said.
The proposed animal control ordinance would limit pet owners to no more than 11 combined cats, dogs and birds, and requires a special license for additional pets.
The ordinance defines adequate space per animal — 250 square feet per dog, 150 square feet per cat, and 50 square feet per reptile — which may include a combination of both indoor and fenced outdoor space, while garages, car ports and sheds cannot be counted.
A city-issued animal collectors licence, in addition to any necessary state or federal licences, would be required for non-domesticated or hybrid animals, such as a wolf-dog hybrid or a wildcat-housecat hybrid, and for three or more reptiles.
Any reptile or other animal that is venomous must be licensed, according to the draft ordinance.
“If a firefighter goes into a building, they need to know what to expect,” Fleck said.
If there are venomous snakes, or a large number of snakes, or wild animals, it is safer for firefighters and police to know what they are walking into, rather then being surprised by unexpected and possibly dangerous residents of the property, he said.
He said the animal registration also notifies firefighters responding to a fire that there may be animals inside that may need to be rescued.
Farm animals on property where they have been kept within the last five years will be exempt from the ordinance, as will animals being cared for in a veterinary hospital.
Litters of young animals will be exempt for 180 days after birth.
The City Council is also considering revisions to the city’s existing animal control ordinances, to better define them and give teeth to enforcement.
A public hearing to address ordinance amendments will be held at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11, at City Council Chambers, 500 E. Division St.
The revisions define exactly how dogs are to be under control of their owner, the required management of female dogs in heat, penalties for owners of barking dogs or other noisy pets, dangerous dog seizure and appeal processes, sets lower licensing prices for spayed or neutered pets, exempts service dogs and police dogs from licensing fees and defines how long stray animals will be held by the city.
The revisions are not related to the Olympic Animal Shelter situation, and were initiated about two years ago, Fleck said.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: July 28. 2014 6:42PM