Controversial dog shelter in Forks ordered to return pit bull to rescue group

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES –– LeRoy the pit bull is going home.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer ruled Friday that Steve Markwell's Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks must return LeRoy, one of 125 dogs at the controversial sanctuary, to the Animal Aid and Rescue Foundation.

The Seattle-based AARF put the dog under the OAS's care in 2009.

“No more crates for LeRoy. Except for in the car on the drive,” said an “overjoyed and relieved” Heather Enajibi, AARF president.

Markwell was ordered to hand LeRoy over to Enajibi. The exchange was set for Friday evening at Forks City Hall.

Rohrer ruled Markwell violated the 2009 contract that established Markwell as the dog's foster caregiver by not giving the dog back when AARF asked Nov. 4.

He ruled the foster agreement never transferred ownership of LeRoy to Markwell.

“I have a hard time talking about animals like they're refrigerators or stacks of wood or something,” Rohrer said while deliberating.

The judge did not consider the conditions of the sanctuary while deciding the case.

Markwell announced last week plans to close his sanctuary at 1021 Russell Road in Forks and find homes for the dogs with the help of other national animal rescue agencies.

“Is there some reason OAS doesn't want to return this dog?” Rohrer asked Markwell's attorney, Derek Medina of Port Angeles.

“Why does he want to have the dog? It's his dog,” Medina said. “It's going to be ripping it out of its home.”

Markwell listened to Friday's hearing by phone. He did not testify and made no comments.

He could not be reached for reaction after Rohrer's decision.

Enajibi asked for LeRoy's return after seeing some of the alleged photos of Olympic Animal Sanctuary that have been circulating on a Facebook campaign to have the shelter shut down for the past year-and-a-half.

Critics say dogs are being kept in inhumane conditions and lack proper care, food or water.

Markwell has repeatedly denied that the dogs have been mistreated in any way. He said he wants to shut down OAS and transfer the dogs to other rescue groups.

Since 2008, Markwell has been taking in "bad dogs," many of them ordered to be euthanized by courts around the country. The animals reprieved to his care are housed in a 4,000-square-foot pink warehouse.

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: “We save dogs you'd rather see dead.”

AARF asked Markwell to take in LeRoy in 2009.

The dog was being aggressive with other animals in their care, he previously told the Peninsula Daily News.

Protestors have been picketing Olympic Animal Sanctuary for about three weeks, and a major demonstration is planned for Sunday.

Enajibi said LeRoy has a new home where he will be safe, but would not disclose that location.

Officials of Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab, Utah, said Thursday they would take or find homes for the dogs at the sanctuary if 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.”

Markwell did not return PDN requests for comment on the Best Friends' proposal.

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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: December 20. 2013 6:57PM
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