Olympic Animal Sanctuary’s former director back in Forks

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS –– Steve Markwell is back.

Markwell, the former director of the embattled and defunct Olympic Animal Sanctuary, is again living in Forks at the warehouse in which he had housed as many as 124 dogs from 2006 until Dec. 21 of last year.

Though he has dogs with him as pets, Markwell said he is not resuming his dog rescue operation.

City officials contacted him this week after receiving a number of phone calls and emails from people around the nation who worry the former director of the sanctuary is resuming a dog rescue operation.

“It was my choice to close OAS,” Markwell said Thursday.

“I have no plans to reopen it, but I’m not legally restricted from doing so, or from having pets, or from living wherever I want to live, or from doing whatever kind of work I want to do.”

Until Dec. 21 of last year, Markwell housed dangerous dogs inside a pink warehouse at 1021 Russell Road.

He formed the sanctuary to save the lives of dogs that would otherwise be euthanized because they were either abused or prone to violence, he said.

He was featured in a number of national news outlets, including People magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

Protests began after a Facebook site showed photos depicting dogs living in travel crates and which were said to have been taken inside by former volunteers and Forks police.

On Dec. 24, after weeks of heavy protests by animal rights activists who said the dogs Markwell housed were being kept in inhumane conditions, he turned the dogs over to a New York-based dog rescue organization.

He arrived at a makeshift shelter in the Arizona desert with the dogs crated in the back of a 53-foot semitrailer after a flight from Forks that began Dec. 21.

Now, some of the activists who protested Markwell’s shelter are contacting city officials with concerns he is trying to revive the sanctuary.

“It’s been a bizarre couple of days,” City Attorney Rod Fleck said.

Calls that the sound of barking dogs could be heard outside the warehouse came in to city officials starting Sunday, Fleck said.

Police investigated but heard nothing.

On Wednesday, Sgt. Mike Rowley contacted Markwell to ask him about the dogs. Fleck said Rowley heard two dogs barking.

“I told him I have dogs. They’re my dogs, my pets,” Markwell said.

“I’m not starting this up again. I didn’t have enough funding to keep it going before, and I haven’t received any more since then.”

Markwell would not say how he is currently making a living in Forks, saying: “I don’t need people messing with my income.”

Many of the callers to the city, who are primarily calling from outside Forks, have asked why Markwell was allowed to return to Forks, Fleck said.

“We can’t ban him from Forks,” Fleck said, adding that city officials also cannot stop him from having dogs.

“He has no prohibition that I know of against owning dogs,” Fleck said.

Markwell has not been charged with any criminal mistreatment of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary dogs.

He returned to Clallam County in late February to answer a civil lawsuit filed by former donor Sherie Maddox of Port Angeles and to clear a warrant the city had issued against him for allegedly kicking the car of a protester outside his sanctuary in December.

Both suits are still pending.

He said he left the area after his initial appearances but returned and decided to stay when he realized the Forks charge of malicious mischief would take longer to resolve.

“Once I realized Fleck was going to drag it out, I decided it would be easier to stay here and deal with it,” he said.

About 20 of the dogs Markwell turned over in Arizona are still being kept in the desert sanctuary, according to Guardians of Rescue Director Robert Misseri.

“It was a monster undertaking. These are not easy dogs to adopt out,” Misseri said.

Most were adopted out to various rescue agencies around the country.

Guardians of Rescue is still looking to find homes for the remaining dogs, but because of their aggressive nature and emotional problems, Misseri said, the group has been “very particular” about who they allow to adopt the dogs.

“It’s a lot easier for a group to handle one dog or two dogs than it is for one guy to handle 124,” Misseri said.

Misseri, too, has been contacted by people concerned Markwell is taking in more dogs.

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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: May 15. 2014 6:53PM
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