The Olympic Animal Sanctuary continues to draw attention from animal advocates around the world.
This week the City of Forks received a petition signed by more than 1,000 people asking for action on the facility. The petition, which also was sent to Sen. Jim Hargrove, Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, Rep. Steve Tharinger, Sheriff Bill Benedict and a number of other elected officials and representatives of law enforcement, asks for an investigation into the facility.
The petition’s authors say “Legal action against this ‘sanctuary’ stalled on the local level for months,” and add, “OAS needs to be investigated by those who have the power to start a ‘real’ investigation.”
They say that “Pictures of emaciated, sickly animals living in filthy conditions have surfaced and nothing is being done. The facility did a major cleanup for the news to come, and it is felt that the poor conditions will resurface once the press leaves.”
“In our opinion, the OAS needs to be shut down, and the owner and board members charged with animal cruelty.”
City officials are unconvinced. Mayor Bryon Monohon called the petition “a farce.”
He says OAS owner Steve Markwell has been “a great citizen and an all-around good guy.”
He added that many of the critics of the OAS don’t understand the animals kept at the facility.
“There are people who think he has house pets, but they aren’t. These are dogs that anywhere else would have been put down.”
“These are mean, wild animals.”
Monohon said it’s also important to remember that Markwell has rights. He said the city is very hesitant to step in, adding that could result in litigation. “I’m not interested in getting the people of Forks in a position where they’re spending thousands on this.”
He said in the long run, Markwell likely has just two options: “He gets a nicer, bigger facility or these dogs have to be put down.”
Monohon said Markwell has worked hard to secure a new and better facility.
Monohon said when Markwell arrived in town four years ago, he made his intentions clear to those at City Hall. “We were like, ‘Oh, no, not in town,’ but the reality was that the laws allowed it.”
Monohon said the city has heard complaints from local residents, “but not a lot.”
He added that he receives numerous e-mails from animal rights advocates asking for action. But, he said, it isn’t that easy. “It’s a very, very difficult situation. How does it get resolved? If we try to resolve it we’ll get sued.”
City Attorney/Planner Rod Fleck said he also receives frequent e-mails and occasionally is required to endure long and sometimes testy phone calls. He said sometimes the callers complain about the supposed conditions and include “all these implications that there are all these other violations.”
He shrugged. “What can we do? We’re not the IRS, we’re not the Secretary of State.”
He said the city can only take action if there is a criminal act or a code violation.
He said it’s a difficult position because Markwell says all of the dogs are his “on a personal level. We don’t have a limit on the number of pets you can have.”
He added that the city isn’t quick to enter into disputes with private individuals. “We have a very ‘the government can’t tell me what we can do with my house and hounds’ approach.”
Fleck added that Markwell is now represented by an attorney, which makes informal discussions more difficult. “I can’t just talk to him at Outfitters,” he said.
Fleck said in the last two weeks he’s been attempting to discuss the issue with Markwell’s attorney Paul Richmond, but said the two haven’t managed to get together. “Part of that is my fault,” Fleck said, noting he has a busy schedule.
He added that he’s “losing my patience with whole thing.” He said he’s regularly told to “kick down the doors and rescue the dogs.”
“OK, well, someone has a set of rights to the property.”
He said the evidence presented by critics on the Internet has no value. “There may be some questions about the report and the pictures on the Facebook. I can’t get a search warrant on pictures that are three years old.”
He said he recently had a long conversation with one critic, who eventually commented, “Well, this is a really complicated issue. There’s no easy solution.”
Fleck agreed, saying, “Well, I have a Phi Beta Kappa key and a J.D. If there was an easy solution, I think I would have found it.”
Markwell has said he takes in the dogs to prevent their death. He said the dogs are troubled, and often vicious, but they shouldn’t be put down. Their difficulties, he said, “are our fault.”
He added that he believes he can give the dogs a home that is sufficiently comfortable to justify living out their natural lives.
Markwell’s attorney, Paul Richmond, declined to speak.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.