Dogs in a Washington Shelter Had It as Bad as Critics Alleged

The Olympic Animal Sanctuary's owner skipped town, surrendering 124 dogs to a rescue group.


The controversy over Olympic Animal Sanctuary and its owner, Steve Markwell, divided the town of Forks, Washington, for more than a year. To those of us watching, it seemed like it could go on forever, the anger and hurt only getting deeper and deeper as Markwell holed up in his compound with almost 130 dogs.

And then, unexpectedly, it ended. Not with the bang that we were all expecting, but with the proverbial whimper. In December, Markwell crammed 124 dogs into a semitrailer truck, drove them more than 1,300 miles to Golden Valley, Arizona, and turned them over to Guardians of Rescue, a New York-based rescue organization. Since then, there have been no reports of Markwell’s whereabouts.

On Jan. 2, a warrant was issued for his arrest due to his failure to show up to a court hearing on charges that he allegedly kicked a protester’s car in December. His business website is now just a blank white page with one paragraph of text: “Olympic Animal Sanctuary has dissolved and we are no longer raising funds or accepting donations in Washington state. Thanks for your past support.”

So that’s the end of the story of Olympic Animal Sanctuary. Markwell did the one thing that no one ever thought he would: He just gave up.

Except that it’s not really the end. The story was never really about Markwell, although his bombastic, infuriating personality added buckets of kerosene to an issue that already inflamed passions. The story was about alleged animal cruelty toward animals inside the “sanctuary,” which was supposed to be a home for dogs that were unadoptable and would otherwise be put to sleep. And that story hasn’t ended.

Last week, Dr. Randy Winn, of the VCA Black Mountain Animal Hospital, told KTNV news that his examinations of the dogs confirmed Markwell’s critics’ worst expectations.

“I’ve seen some neglect cases, but they were never this bad,” he said.

Some of the dogs were having seizures from malnutrition, some had hair so matted that they had to be sedated to have it sheared off, and some were suffering from contact sores from not being able to move in their cages. The report showed one Pit Bull, Buddy, who Winn said was hours away from death when he was brought in to the hospital.

“At first you’d look in his eyes and there was nobody there,” he said.

Many of the dogs were emaciated, with atrophied muscles, and Winn says that some of the ones he saw hadn’t had anything to eat in five to eight weeks.

Guardians of Rescue convinced Markwell to bring the dogs to the Rescued Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation (RUFFF) House Sanctuary in Arizona. The facility wasn’t ready to take in 124 malnourished, suffering dogs, but there weren’t really any other options.

“How could I say no? Because there was nowhere for them to go,” said owner Hillarie Allison. “And the fear was that he would take off into the mountains or the desert and just disappear, and then the probability that all these animals would have perished is so real.”

Many of the dogs have been given to other rescue organizations to care for, but RUFFF House and Guardians of Rescue still have about 50 in their custody. Guardians says on their website that due to their treatment, and previous behavioral problems, most need experienced people to take them.

As of now, Guardians of Rescue estimates that they’ve spent about $60,000 caring for the dogs from Olympic Animal Sanctuary. Donations and adoption inquiries can be made on their website.

More on Olympic Animal Shelter:

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