Although Forks, Washington, first became known to most Americans as the setting for Stephenie Meyers’s Twilight books, recent months have seen a struggle much more epic than anything between werewolves and sparkly vampires. The Olympic Animal Sanctuary, run by a man named Steve Markwell, has been a source of increasing vitriol and controversy between the town’s residents and beyond for the past year.
Last week, the controversy escalated even more when one of Markwell’s critics, animal activist Tamira Thayne, was arrested for violating a restraining order. Thayne had been ordered not to come within 500 feet of Markwell and Olympic Animal Sanctuary. On Thursday, when she and other of Markwell’s critics held a protest in front of the large, pink warehouse that houses about 128 dogs, Thayne stood in the driveway with a large sign reading, “I’m here for the dogs, they need help.” That put her in direct violation of the restraining order, and she was arrested by the police. City Attorney Rod Fleck said, “she was way, way, way within the area that she should have been.”
Olympic Animal Sanctuary was founded by Markwell in 2006 as a place for unadoptable dogs, especially those who would have been put down for aggressive behavior. But activists say that instead of providing salvation, Markwell keeps the dogs in crowded conditions without proper food, water, or exercise.
Thayne, the founder and CEO of Dogs Deserve Better, came all the way from Virginia to make her statement against Markwell. Dogs Deserve Better is best known for taking over Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels, now known as Good Newz Kennels. Thayne and DDB got involved with the campaign against Markwell when one of their representatives in Seattle transferred a dog named Sonny to the Olympic shelter. It was only afterward that they began to hear the allegations of mistreatment and abuse. They have been trying to get Sonny returned ever since.
In a press release, DDB’s rescue coordinator Robin Budin said, “We are absolutely appalled at what appears to be the living conditions of the dogs trapped in the Forks ‘sanctuary.’ We repeatedly e-mailed the founder Steve Markwell asking for Sonny to be released back to us or to see evidence of conditions where he is living at the facility; not only has he not provided a shred of evidence that Sonny is alive and well, but he has not responded to us at all. That raises a serious red flag.”
In her own account of the demonstration, Thayne noted that between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., no one entered or left the warehouse, indicating neglect of the dogs inside: “If you have 120 dogs to care for every day, this would take AT LEAST 5-6 people ALL DAY LONG to simply give them all food and water and clean their cages. It’s doubtful that you could give them all even a very short time outside or a short walk if the people worked all day. Yet we were there for 4.5 hours and not a single person went inside? Something is horribly wrong with this picture.”
For his part, Markwell has said that if opponents really care about the dogs, they should stop protesting him and make donations to OAS. He claims that part of the problem with the conditions of the dogs is because all the controversy is making it harder for him to raise funds and buy supplies.
No matter what picture you see at OAS, one thing is for certain: the conflict shows no signs of going away.