Controversial Forks animal shelter to close, says founder

FORKS, Wash. - A controversial animal shelter in Forks is set to shutdown as soon as arrangements are made for the animals, owner Steve Markwell wrote in a message to his supporters Saturday evening.

The news comes after Markwell, the man who runs Olympic Animal Sanctuary, was arrested Thursday when Forks police say he kicked and pounded on the legally parked car of a protester across the street.

Olympic Animal Sanctuary is a non-profit dog facility in a rundown warehouse with almost no windows, and houses dangerous dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.

A Forks police report filed last year found many dogs kept in tiny travel crates in which many could not stand fully erect or turn around with ease. Many cages had no constant access to water, and they were fed only raw animal parts once or twice a week.

Photos show dog waste, heavy accumulations of dust and dirt everywhere, and the facility is strewn with junk and equipment. Crates with dogs inside are sometimes stacked on top of each other. And the smell, which has been described by several who have been inside as overwhelming, was enough to make at least one volunteer vomit.

In the statement posted on Facebook, Markwell acknowledges that conditions were not perfect, but maintains that he provides basic needs for the sheltered animals. He goes on to blame "animal rights extremists" who he says started "a social media firestorm that has lasted for a year using false accusations of abuse, neglect, and cover-ups."

"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, emails, death threats, and organized campaigns to get them fired from their jobs," Markwell wrote.

Markwell says he also fears for the safety of his employees, family, or even one of the dogs.

The Sanctuary's reputation, he says, has been so damaged by the negative publicity, that "previous attempts to reach out to other no-kill organizations equipped to care for my dogs have been unsuccessful."

Ultimately, the dogs need to be transferred. Markwell points to Best Friends Animal Society as a group that can appropriately care for the animals, and has urged his supporters and opponents to encourage the organization to house the dogs.

"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," he wrote.

Markwell goes on to say, "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."

Emotions on both sides of this controversy have been rising for months with several lawsuits filed against Markwell. One of Markwell's major donors is suing him, alleging he failed to use her $50,000 donation to move out of the dilapidated warehouse as she says he promised.

Many of the top local and national animal welfare leaders say the situation in Forks is comparable to many others they've seen elsewhere in which a well-intentioned animal lover is unable to achieve a grand vision yet unwilling to recognize failure.