By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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On Tuesday, December 17th, we spoke with Steve Markwell's attorney and requested detailed information about the dogs at OAS and what Mr. Markwell was asking of Best Friends. We then received a brief email from Mr. Markwell himself on the 18th. Neither interaction provided any specifics about either the dogs (number, condition, temperament, etc.) or about Mr. Markwell's ultimate intentions. For example, we do not know if he intends to divest himself of all dogs in his care and then permanently close OAS, or if he intends to simply start fresh and begin bringing in new animals once the current population is gone.
Although we have asked for additional details, at this time, we have not received this key information from either Mr. Markwell or his attorney. In our opinion and professional judgment, the best chance for ensuring the welfare of the dogs is for Mr. Markwell to open wide the doors of the facility and allow all qualified organizations to help immediately and unconditionally.
If Mr. Markwell agrees to accept help from all willing and qualified rescues, and if he agrees not to take in any more dogs at his existing facility or any other, here is what we at Best Friends are prepared to do to help:
1. Assuming that there are dogs within the OAS population who can safely live within a group housing environment, we believe we will be able to accept several such dogs at our no-kill sanctuary in Kanab. As usual, we are operating our own sanctuary at capacity, and it would simply be irresponsible of us to take in more dogs than we can safely accommodate. We have limited facilities suitable for dogs who cannot live in group housing. Currently, these facilities are full, and there is already a waiting list of dogs who require that type of living situation.
2. We are willing to network, spreading the word to other like-minded rescue groups about the dogs in need at OAS. In fact, we have already heard from several groups who are willing to help. We are also willing to help with transporting the dogs to qualified groups. We believe that if Mr. Markwell agrees to be transparent and open about the situation at OAS, many more groups will step forward to save lives.
We understand that many of you are eager to see this situation improved for the dogs, and we will make you aware of any opportunities to help them should things evolve.
“Assuming that there are dogs within the OAS population who can safely live within a group housing environment, we believe we will be able to accept several such dogs at our no-kill sanctuary in Kanab,” spokeswoman Barbara Williamson said in an email to the Peninsula Daily News late Thursday afternoon.
Williamson added that Best Friends is offering to find homes in other “like-minded rescue groups” for dogs that cannot be housed at Best Friends' already-at-capacity facilities.
Citing weariness from weeks of protests outside his pink warehouse at 1021 Russell Road by people who say the dogs are neglected, Markwell said Saturday that he would be willing to close his shelter if Best Friends agreed to work with him to find homes for the dogs.
Williamson said her organization spoke with Markwell's attorney, Derek Medina of Port Angeles, on Tuesday and received an email from Markwell on Wednesday.
Williamson said that those conversations did not yield information about the “number, condition or temperament” of the dogs, nor whether he intends to give up all his dogs and permanently close Olympic Animal Sanctuary or “simply start fresh and begin bringing in new animals.”
To expedite the re-homing process, Best Friends' statement urged Markwell to open his sanctuary to any “willing and qualified rescues.”
“In our opinion and professional judgment, the best chance for ensuring the welfare of the dogs is for Mr. Markwell to open wide the doors of the facility and allow all qualified organizations to help immediately and unconditionally,” Williamson wrote.
Markwell could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Markwell founded Olympic Animal Sanctuary to be a home for dogs that were ordered euthanized by courts around the country.
His belief, he has said, is that they should be given a place to live out the course of their natural lives.
The sanctuary's motto is: “We save dogs you'd rather see dead.”
Best Friends, founded in 1984, is the largest no-kill sanctuary in the nation.
Robert Misseri is president of Guardians of Rescue, which describes it itself as “an animal rights and welfare organization whose members work to protect the well-being of all animals and their owners, and come to the aid of those in distress.”
Misseri has been working with Markwell for “a while” to help find homes for the Olympic Animal Sanctuary dogs.
“I think he wants to see positive results. And I totally respect the fact that he wants these dogs not euthanized,” Misseri said. “But it's going to be a process.”
Misseri said the number of no-kill shelters is very few. He has spoken with five shelters about possibly taking in Markwell's dogs, he said Thursday morning.
Many run short on resources quickly and run into troubles of overextending their operations to accommodate the dogs for the rest of their lives.
“He's got the world on his shoulders right now. He's taken on a big responsibility there,” Misseri said.
Police reported seeing dogs in good health inside Olympic Animal Sanctuary on Wednesday as they inspected three dogs registered as dangerous with the city.
The registration means that police must conduct annual inspections of conditions for those dogs, Police Administrator Rick Bart said.
Police said that they saw about 40 dogs on the main floor.
Officers Mike Rowley and Todd Garcia went inside the main floor of the 4,000-square-foot, two-story pink warehouse for the inspection Wednesday, but not the top floor.
“We were only there to check on those three dangerous dogs,” Rowley said late Thursday afternoon.
“But I could see other dogs in the background, and from what I could see there weren't any visible wounds or anything like that.”
The inspection of the three dogs included reviews of permits, licenses and insurance coverage, as well as a review of the dogs' living conditions and apparent health.
Rowley, who was in an all-day training session Thursday, said his report would be filed Friday morning.
Rowley said the fur of the dogs he could see appeared to be healthy and relatively clean. He described the sanctuary as dirty, but said it did not appear to be unsanitary.
“The conditions were not deplorable. However, they were not a Hawaiian beach,” Rowley said.
“I did not see any feces on the floor at all. However, there was a mild to medium urine smell due to the large number of dogs that's inside.”
Photos depicting dogs living in travel crates said to have been taken inside by former volunteers and Forks police have been at the center of a Facebook campaign to shut it down for more than the past year.
Rowley said he did not see any dogs in crates. He also did not believe Markwell cleaned up the place before allowing officers inside.
“I do not believe there was a large cleanup process before I got there, due to the fact that there was still dirty hay in the corners, and it was still fairly dirty inside,” Rowley said.
Critics concerned about the condition of the dogs inside had been protesting outside the sanctuary for weeks, though there was only one protester reported on scene by police Thursday.
Maggie McDowell, a protester from Seattle who spent last week demonstrating in front of Markwell's sanctuary, said she was happy that police reported the dogs they saw were well, but said more inspection is needed.
“I'm delighted to hear they did the annual dangerous dog inspection. I think that's really important,” McDowell said.
“I trust them. But they were there on a very limited scope. I think there's a lot more that needs to be inspected.”
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.