Founder and Executive Director of Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS) Steve Markwell stated yesterday afternoon, December 14, that he would dissolve his organization if Best Friends Animal Society agrees to take the dogs currently in the care of OAS. Markwell said he would transfer all of OAS’s approximately 125 abused, traumatized, semi-feral, and/or aggressive canines to the no-kill organization.
The statement came on the heals of Markwell’s arrest on Thursday, December 12, after he allegedly pounded on the car of a protester parked near OAS. The Forks Police Department confirmed today, December 15, that Markwell is no longer in custody.
Best Friends Animal Society in Angel Canyon, Utah, is the largest shelter in the United States for abused and abandoned animals. The nonprofit organization’s intake was 30,720 animals just in the first half of 2013. Mostly home to dogs and cats, Best Friends says it receives thousands of requests for admission every year and for this reason is “unable to accommodate most requests of aggressive animals and those who are fearful of others of the same species.”
Best Friends spokesperson Barbara Williamson issued the following response to OAS today:
We are aware of Steve Markwell’s post calling on Best Friends to take in the dogs from Olympic Animal Sanctuary. We have asked Mr. Markwell to get in touch with us directly and provide the information we’ll need to begin assessing the feasibility of providing assistance. While we understand the concern that is driving so many people to urge us to take in these dogs, only after extended discussions and careful evaluation will we be able to determine what is possible. In addition, the allegations of abuse must be taken seriously, and Best Friends does not have the legal authority here. The local authorities should determine if charges are appropriate.
We know from experience that responding to these situations takes a tremendous amount of money, manpower, time and planning. Given the complexity of this situation, it is simply too soon for us to commit to any particular course of action. Housing and caring for more than 100 dogs that are reportedly either human aggressive, dog aggressive, or both would be a massive challenge. Our primary concern, as always, is the welfare of the dogs, and once we begin a dialogue with Mr. Markwell, we will be in a position to determine how we and other like-minded groups might help.
Markwell has been under increasing fire and scrutiny for months by critics of the sanctuary who believe the conditions at OAS are inhumane for the dogs and coyote and wolf hybrids living in the converted trucking warehouse building in Forks, Washington. Critics have accused Markwell of not providing the dogs at OAS with clean living conditions, exercise, and consistent access to the outdoors.
Markwell also has been heavily criticized for confining some dogs in small travel crates, a situation I witnessed when I visited OAS last April. At the time Markwell told me he was planning to expand his larger kennels to accommodate the crated dogs and downsize his number of animals. He planned to relocate OAS to a more suitable 10-acre property in unincorporated Clallam County that had been offered to him by a supporter so he could create better living conditions for the dogs.
A dozen or so protesters stood vigil earlier today in front of OAS holding signs and calling for action by local authorities to shut down the facility.
I contacted Markwell in early November with followup questions about the situation at OAS but did not receive answers. In early December I contacted Markwell again to request a followup interview at OAS. Markwell agreed to the interview and visit but hinted that something else would be happening first and requested more time.
When I contacted Best Friends and Markwell about this story they were not immediately available for comment.
Here is Markwell’s statement:
The sole motivation at Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS) has always been to give otherwise hopeless dogs a chance at a decent life.
I started OAS to provide a home for dogs whose behavioral problems required specialized long-term care. These dogs were so dangerous, difficult to handle, or came with such troubling histories that the only other organizations that would accept them did so for the specific purpose of executing them.
Since the only other option was a death sentence, OAS accepted more abused and troubled dogs than I ever planned to. This meant conditions were not perfect, but, nonetheless, the dogs were always fed well, sheltered adequately, and provided veterinary care and expert rehabilitation. Three weeks ago, a vet visited the sanctuary, examined every dog, and verified that they all were having their health and medical needs appropriately met.
Beginning a year ago, a disgruntled ex-volunteer whom I fired partnered with extreme “animal rights” groups that oppose all no kill sanctuaries to put OAS out of operation, get our dogs killed, and blame me for it. With the help of the animal rights extremists, she was able to create a social media firestorm that has lasted for a year using false accusations of abuse, neglect, and cover-ups.
Despite allowing the press (such as Peninsula Daily News and Inside Bainbridge), fellow rescuers, and veterinarians inside OAS’ facility to disprove the allegations, the anti-OAS campaigns have ignored the evidence that the claims against us are false. This is largely because the main goals of our opponents – discrediting me personally and killing OAS’ dogs – have nothing to do with the conditions the dogs live in.
The campaign against OAS has become so extreme that anyone who has ever been affiliated with me has been on the receiving end of countless harassing phone calls, e-mails, death threats, and organized campaigns to get them fired from their jobs. A “protester” recently violated a restraining order and was arrested on my property, and now there is a campaign to harass my mother, a woman in her sixties, at her home in California, and to get her fired from her job. My mother resigned from OAS’ board of directors in September.
Given the intensity and hysteria of these groups, I sincerely believe that one of their members will snap at any moment and physically hurt someone close to me, or OAS’ dogs. I also worry that the damage done to OAS’ reputation will prevent it from ever having the fundraising base needed to give these dogs the type of life that I want them to have. Previous attempts to reach out to other no-kill organizations equipped to care for my dogs have been unsuccessful.
For these reasons, I am offering to transfer OAS’ dogs to the one organization with the resources to take appropriate care of them: Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends is a world-renowned no-kill sanctuary that referred a number of OAS’ dogs to me in the first place. They have the staff, expertise, land, financial resources, and philosophy to give OAS’ dogs the best chance they can ever have for a good life.
If Best Friends and their no-kill partners will agree to take OAS’ dogs, care for them for their entire natural lives, and not transfer them to any other person or organization unequipped to provide the specialized care they require, my attorney will negotiate the details with them. Once the specifics are arranged, I will transfer the dogs and dissolve Olympic Animal Sanctuary.
I think this gives OAS’ dogs the best chance they will ever have of happy and healthy lives. I strongly encourage Best Friends to accept this offer, and I encourage everyone–OAS supporters, opponents, and everyone in between–to contact Best Friends and ask them to take these dogs. They can be reached at:
Phone: (435) 644-2001
I want to make clear that this transfer will be jeopardized if the anti-OAS groups continue to encourage harassment and threats against innocent parties such as my mother, friends, and ex-board members. I am making this offer to increase the safety of OAS’ dogs and those close to me, and I will not continue to engage if I feel like it is only inflaming the dangerously disturbed personalities that are threatening citizens simply for trying to help the dogs.
In closing, I want to restate that the sole motivation at OAS has always been to give otherwise hopeless dogs a chance at a decent life. I hope Best Friends accepts my offer and does just that.
Founder and Executive Director of Olympic Animal Sanctuary
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Photos taken at OAS by Julie Hall, April 14, 2013.