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A firestorm was ignited when photos of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary of Forks, WA, were posted on a Facebook page in April of 2013. The photos showed dead dogs in a cooler, a dead dog by an empty water bowl, injured dogs, filthy water, and stacks of urine-encrusted crates, each containing a miserable, frightened dog.

The reaction was immediate: phone calls to the Mayor of Forks, emails to the City Council, letters to the Chief of Police, all calling for the release of the dogs to rescues.  And the response from city officials in Forks and from Steve Markwell, President of OAS, was dismissive: Outsiders inflamed by rumors were behaving like a lynch mob, outsiders were spreading exaggerations on Facebook, etc, etc…  

It is possible to examine a situation and arrive at a reasonable conclusion based on facts. Ideally it is the role of the mainstream media to perform this function for readers and viewers. But the OAS saga, which started over a year ago and is still ongoing, received coverage only by KOMO TV of Seattle and by the Peninsula Daily News. And the PDN coverage was in the style of “Some say the earth is flat; opinions differ”.

It took hundreds of ordinary citizens, googling away and posting on Facebook, to investigate the Olympic Animal Sanctuary. This is what those people discovered:
(more below the fold)

1. The so-called sanctuary was rundown 4000 square foot warehouse inside Forks city limits, which, in January of 2013, contained 160 dogs. It was surrounded by junk and stank of pee and feces. The dogs barked incessantly, but the city did not respond to complaints filed by neighbors.  

2. According to the Olympic Animal Sanctuary website, it was a facility for unadoptable dogs. The President, Steve Markwell, claimed that his sanctuary provided the dogs with home cooked meals, safe play groups for exercise, veterinary care, and training to address behavior issues. Markwell had built a national reputation based on his website and his speaking tours. In spite of the fact that he had no training or credentials, Markwell claimed to be an expert in dog behavior and had been given laudatory write-ups in American Dog Magazine and the LA Times. The Humane Society gave him a one thousand dollar grant. Based on his claims, overloaded rescues from all over the US had sent him dogs they could not adopt out, believing that the dogs would live happily at the sanctuary. OAS had an annual income of around one hundred thousand dollars.

3. Markwell had held a series of fundraisers for specific projects which never materialized. His tax filings showed no salary, yet he somehow paid routine living expenses. He even purchased a truck with no visible source of income other than donations. It is donor fraud to collect money for one purpose but use it for another.

4. The OAS Board of Directors included two members who lived out of state:  Markwell’s mother and a personal friend.

5. But most damning were the photographs taken by the police.  The dark filthy warehouse was crammed with dogs stacked up in crates, shoved in crates under the stairs, jammed into crates surrounded by trash. A few of the dogs had small kennels with bedding of urine-saturated straw. Classic hoarder conditions, easily recognizable to anyone who has ever seen police photos of a cruelty bust.  Those pictures, obtained through the Public Records Act, were posted on Facebook along with police reports, emails from Markwell admitting to conditions in violation of state law, a copy of the citation given him for violating state law concerning cruelty to animals, emails between city officials exposing their fumbling responses to the police report and intimidation from Markwell’s lawyer, and an email from OAS Vice President Matthew Randazzo to the Mayor of Forks in which Randazzo implied that he would  end future cooperation on public policy unless the prosecution was quashed. (Randazzo was Chair of the Clallam Co. Democrats and has gone on to be an aide for the state Lands Commissioner).

6. Googling amateur investigative reporters discovered that Markwell had ingratiated himself with the Clallam County Democratic party. He had been a precinct captain, as was the City Attorney. The VP of OAS was Chair of the Clallam Co Democrats. Markwell had appeared at political events with local Democrats including Derek Kilmer (who has since repudiated Markwell). Those connections seem to have been helpful; the City Attorney decided not to prosecute.

So that’s what the outcry against OAS was based on: Primary resource evidence of cruelty to animals, donor fraud, tax code violations, emails revealing poor decision-making and unethical conduct by local officials.  All of it public information available to the news media and to pubic officials.

As the city’s failure to enforce the law and the plight of the dogs was shared, the readership for the Inside page grew, eventually reaching over 12,000 “likes”, and readers from all over the US besieged the City of Forks with phone calls, letters and emails demanding the rescue of the dogs incarcerated in the sanctuary. A second Facebook page, "Protest OAS" became a tool for organizing anti-OAS demonstrations. Consumer fraud complaints were lodged with the state Attorney General. Lawsuits were filed. The Governor’s phone began to ring and didn’t stop for months.

 Most dog rescues, city shelters and Humane Societies have FB pages which are used to publicize adoptable dogs, raise funds and recruit volunteers.  Dog rescuers check their news feeds for dogs in need or to see the responses to their own postings. Rescuers who had sent dogs to OAS were horrified when the police photos of OAS showed up on their feeds. Many of the individuals and organizations that had placed dogs with OAS requested the return of their animals and joined the effort to shut OAS down.

Pressure grew. Markwell lost his temper and filed a restraining order against two protesters. He attacked the car of another protester and was arrested. He was sued for the return of one dog and lost. City officials continued to present themselves as the victims of a Facebook mob while the real victims suffered in the warehouse. The number of dogs dropped mysteriously.

Then suddenly, in late December of 2013, undercover of darkness, Markwell loaded the dogs into a semi truck (probably purchased with donor money) and drove away.  The following days were a nightmare for those concerned about the welfare of the dogs. Hours were spent on Facebook, sharing hopes, fears, rumors of sightings of the truck and endless speculations about Markwell’s destination.  Then, suddenly, the Guardians of Rescue, a New York-based group, announced that Markwell had agreed to turn the dogs over to them. On Christmas Day Markwell’s truck arrived in Golden Valley, Arizona, with 124 dogs of the 160 dogs.

The fate of the missing dogs is not known. After Markwell signed the surviving dogs into their custody, the Guardians had the enormous job of creating out of nothing a kennel for the dogs in the desert. As the dogs were unloaded from the truck and moved to kennels they were photographed and the pictures published on the Inside page and the Guardians’ page. All across America people anxiously examined the photos, looking for dogs they had seen in the police photos, or dogs they had sent to OAS and were hoping to retrieve. The OASIS Dogs page was established to identify survivors, memorialize the dead, and provide support for the Guardians.

Most of the dogs had health problems resulting from their confinement at OAS. The problems included worn down teeth, malnutrition, untreated illnesses and wounds. Two dogs were near death and had to be rushed to a veterinary clinic for treatment for pressure sores, starvation, and dehydration.  The Guardians spent over sixty thousand dollars on the rescue, and funds were raised through Facebook.

Over the next four months, the Guardians of Rescue cared for the dogs while searching nationwide for safe placements for them. Again Facebook played a role. The Guardians’ Facebook page, the OASIS Dogs page and the OAS Inside the Sanctuary pages were used to spread word of the dogs to rescues coast to coast. Dogs were transferred from the Arizona site to Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Oklahoma and California. Eleven dogs made their way back to Washington State. The page “The 124: New Lives From Old” was created to celebrate successful placements and adoptions.

As of April, 2014, twenty-five dogs remain in Arizona, awaiting placement in a responsible rescue or sanctuary. The dogs can be seen at this website:   http://www.oasisdogs.org/

The rescue of the OAS dogs was started by one whistleblower who posted photos on Facebook. It became a nationwide effort by ordinary people to do what local officials had refused to do: rescue dogs from a sham sanctuary. The mainstream media, with the exception of KOMO TV News, ignored the story, leaving it to the amateurs on FB to investigate and disseminate primary resource material and documentation. This remarkable rescue story was made possible because social media gave ordinary people the means to pool their skills, communicate with each other, and carry out a sustained crusade in the vacuum created by inept and unethical local officials and a disinterested press.

Documentation:

1. Documentation of false advertising and cruelty to animals

A. Screen shots of website with claims that dogs had indoor exercise area. Describes outdoor areas as having pools available for play. Claims dogs are brought in at night to sleep in rooms the size of a child’s bedroom. Says that “some “dogs sleep in metal kennels.

 https://www.facebook.com/...

 Claims on website that the goal is to provide a high quality of life. https://www.facebook.com/...

             B. This batch of links shows the actual conditions at the facility:
Examples of care provided

Food: https://www.facebook.com/...

Emaciated dog: https://www.facebook.com/...

Shelter and space: https://www.facebook.com/...

Interior crates: https://www.facebook.com/...

The exercise yard: https://www.facebook.com/...

More interior shots: https://www.facebook.com/...

Dead dogs https://www.facebook.com/...

Skinny dog: https://www.facebook.com/...

 The links above show that conditions at the facility were in violation of WA legal code which state that an owner will be guilty of second degree cruelty if the owner “(a) Fails to provide the animal with necessary shelter, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure.”  The links above show filthy water, unrefrigerated raw food, inappropriate housing in crates, and dead dogs. There is more evidence of second degree cruelty in the section on vet care where you will see pictures of dogs with serious untreated injuries.  Obviously the people who placed dogs at OAS expected the facility to be managed legally, but it wasn’t.  

Washington state law cruelty to animals: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/...

2. Documentation of Donor Fraud:

 The following links show comparisons between specific claims made by representatives of OAS about the care that specific dogs would receive contrasted with the care the dog actually received.
A false claim: https://www.facebook.com/...

Another false claim: https://www.facebook.com/...

3.  OAS officers repeatedly held fundraisers for specific purposes but do not appear to have spent the money for the stated purposes.
                   A. The Hound Room. The hounds were housed in what originally had been a glassed-in room for reptiles.
Screenshot of website fundraiser for hounds
https://www.facebook.com/...
Reached goal for hounds https://www.facebook.com/...
                  B. Claim that construction was begun on a wing for the hounds                        
 https://www.facebook.com/...

What the hound room looked like:
https://www.facebook.com/...

B. The Small Dog Area
 funds raised for small dog area:                           https://www.facebook.com/...
What the small dog room really looked like:
 https://www.facebook.com/...

 C. fundraiser for fighting dog wing https://www.facebook.com/...
https://www.facebook.com/...

D. These links show that there was no wing built for the fighting dogs or for the hounds.
The facility https://www.facebook.com/...
Sideview of the facility: https://www.facebook.com/...

4.. Rebuttal of claims that dogs received veterinary services:
 Lefty https://www.facebook.com/...

Phoenix: https://www.facebook.com/...

Max, hair loss: https://www.facebook.com/...

Mabel tumor: https://www.facebook.com/...

Sophie hair loss: https://www.facebook.com/...

Betsy wound on neck: https://www.facebook.com/...

.5 While donor money was not, apparently, spent on adequate food, improved shelter, or veterinary care for the dogs, OAS did purchase a truck.  
A. The trucking company: https://www.facebook.com/...
B, Also the 2011 taxes show no salary for the President; however, Steven Markwell did have living expenses. He frequently ate in a local café, for example. Where did he get the
money?

Videos of the interior of OAS
http://www.youtube.com/...
http://www.youtube.com/...

http://www.youtube.com/...

Documentation relating to poiice and communication between city officials and OAS officer VP Randazzo:

Randazzo’s email to the Mayor
https://www.facebook.com/...

The citation:
https://www.facebook.com/...

https://www.facebook.com/...

Police records:
https://www.facebook.com/...

Police communication with Markwell’s attorney:
https://www.facebook.com/...

Complaint from neighbor:
https://www.facebook.com/...

Complaint of smells:
https://www.facebook.com/...

Police report:

https://www.facebook.com/...

https://www.facebook.com/...

https://www.facebook.com/...

https://www.facebook.com/...

https://www.facebook.com/...

https://www.facebook.com/...

The Facebook pages

OAS: Life Inside the Sanctuary
https://www.facebook.com/...

OASIS Dogs
https://www.facebook.com/...

The 124: New Lives From Old
https://www.facebook.com/...

Guardians of Resue
https://www.facebook.com/...

4:09 PM PT: http://www.seattledogspot.com/  This is a link to a blog that did extensive coverage of the OAS saga. If you go back and read the articles in order , ti tells the whole story with tons of fascinating detail.

Tue Apr 29, 2014 at  5:57 AM PT: http://www.nyshumane.org/...

This is a link to an excellent article about people who hoard animals.


Originally posted to wren on Mon Apr 28, 2014 at 11:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by PWB Peeps and Street Prophets .

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