Animal group open to accepting dogs from 'Sanctuary of Sorrow'

SEATTLE -- The man at the center of a controversial dog sanctuary shocked his many critics over the weekend by announcing he's willing to shut down.

Steve Markwell said in a statement posted on an affiliated Facebook page that he wants to transfer the dogs to a high-profile animal sanctuary in Utah called "Best Friends Animal Society."

The organization didn't it rule out, but on Monday said taking the dogs would be a "massive challenge" and that Markwell has not even contacted them yet.

Markwell's statement said he's willing to close down his Olympic Animal Sanctuary in a dilapidated, un-heated warehouse in Forks, Washington where he keeps as many as 120 dogs.

Critics say the animals are kept in squalor, get little or no exercise, and are fed raw animal parts once or twice a week with only sporadic access to clean water.

Best Friends sanctuary in Utah is the leading facility of its kind is best known for working to rehabilitate many of the Michael Vick fighting dogs in a case that caused a national anger.

There are parallels in both cases: Angry protesters came to tiny Forks last month and have maintained a small presence each day.

The real pressure came from massive -- sometimes fanatic -- social media presence throughout America, as well as Europe and Australia.

Markwell said his life was threatened.

In his statement, Markwell admits OAS is "not perfect" but that "claims against us are false." He said "animal rights extremists" created a "hysteria" and "social media firestorm" that made it impossible for him to get donations to continue.

"For these reasons," he said, "I am offering to transfer OAS' dogs to the one organization with the resources to take appropriate care of them: Best Friends Animal Society."

That was a surprise to officals from Best Friends, whose spokesperson said they've not even heard from Markwell and "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."

That last sentence in their carefully-crafted statement suggests that even though the shelter might accept transfer of all those dogs, they are also focused on whether Markwell kept them in abusive conditions as legions of critics allege. Certainly, interior photos taken last year say so too.

But the City of Forks has said it doesn't have the laws or the money for a legal battle.

Markwell's critics have been relieved but question whether his intentions to transfer the dogs are genuine.