Protesters demand Forks take action against 'dog sanctuary'

FORKS, Wash. -- A small group of protesters shouting "stop the abuse!" marched through Forks Thursday evening demanding that local authorities take action against Olympic Animal Sanctuary, where a KOMO 4 Problem Solvers investigation chronicled an estimated 120 dogs are kept in what critics call "nightmare" conditions.

The peaceful protesters caused quite a stir in the remote Olympic Peninsula logging town better known for the location of the vampire series "Twilight" than for protests. The 20 or so protesters made their way with police escort from a park to an Elks Lodge for a previously planned Town Hall meeting about local crime issues.

The non-profit dog facility, in a rundown warehouse with almost no windows, is run by Steve Markwell, who takes in dangerous dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. A Forks police report last year found many of the 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. They were fed only raw animals parts once or twice a week.

The stench from urine and feces was "overwhelming," chronicled the officer who wrote a citation for animal cruelty. But the Forks City Attorney, after several exchanges with Markwell's attorney, declined to issue the citation citing legal complications with the basis for going to search the dog facility in the first place - even though Markwell gave permission for the officer to enter and take photographs. Forks authorities maintain Markwell has violated no laws - despite photographs depicting mistreatment.

Markwell refuses to let authorities, or nearly anyone else, inside to document current conditions.

Protesters in Forks, and more than 10,000 people who clicked an on-line petition, remain livid that no legal action has yet been taken against Markwell who has written that he's fallen short of his goals but has violated no laws.

"It makes me a little angry," said protester organizer Laura Mundy. "But more than that it breaks my heart (that) no one is doing anything about it. So that's part of the reason that we are here is because someone has to be a voice for the animals."

The Town Hall meeting, with about 150 in attendance, was led by Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon, Forks Police Chief Rick Bart, Clallam County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Nichols and other authorities. Forks City Attorney Rod Fleck, whose legal decisions are the centerpiece of the controversy, was not there.

Nichols told KOMO 4 the case was referred to him by Fleck for consideration of felony animal cruelty charges. He said to pursue such charges, a necropsy would have needed to be performed on several dogs that died in the facility, with supporting evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the dogs died as a result of neglect inside the facility. But the dogs' bodies were disposed of long before the case reached prosecutors.

Nichols says he sometimes receives 20 emails a day from animal lovers around the nation and abroad imploring him to file charges.

Forks Police Chief Bart was asked whether he believes dogs inside the facility are being mistreated.

"Do I right now? I don't know," he said. "But we'll resolve this soon. That's my hope."

One lone woman shouted: "Leave Steve alone! Carry your butt back home!" constantly during the protest march. Several other local Forks residents in the Town Hall meeting audience shouted angrily at the protesters who were largely from out of town. Mayor Monohon admonished the shouting and allowed the protesters to continue to speak to the Town Hall.

"Seeing water buckets full of straw," Maggie McDowell said in a raised voice to the authorities at the head table, "Seeing animals that were shut down and closed."

"Ma'am, your definition of what you would like to see and what the law allows and what somebody else may agree do not match, at this given moment," retorted Monohon.

"How does this not match?" McDowell replied. "They do not match," the mayor said.