Former volunteers explain why they couldn't bear working inside the Olympic Animal Sanctuary

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In September 2011, two women in Forks, Washington volunteered to work at the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks. After 1 day, they decided they couldn't go back because of the horrible conditions in which the dogs lived.

Below are two emails. The first is from the women to Steve Markwell, the shelter's founder, explaining why they couldn't work there again.

Markwell's response follows their email. I didn't use their names to protect their identies.The is one of the pictures on the inside of the Olympic Animal Shelter taken by the Forks Police department in September 2012. Image from

In the emails, you should note:

  • The problems at the shelter outlined by the women are the same as those highlighted by another volunteer and the Forks Police in their report from 2012
  • The women tell Steve the dogs aren't being rehabilitated and he's putting himself in "a dangerous situation"
  • As I saw after standing outside the "Shelter" for 2 days, the women noted the dogs weren't being exercised
  • Steve admits the "Shelter" is "overloaded" (this was 2 years ago), and yet he went on a cross county road trip later that year to bring more dogs to the shelter. He also took in a litter of puppies this year. It appears he can't stop bringing in more dogs even though he knows he has too many.
  • Steve said he got no support from other groups to remove the dogs. I don't know if that was true then, but several groups have offered to take dogs now but he refuses to accept their help.
  • He said the crated dogs were in a "temporary" situation. Forks police took pictures of dogs in crates during their visit in the fall of 2012 - more than a year later. And until others are allowed inside, we have to assume dogs are still in crates.
  • He acknowledged the ammonia smell is a "huge problem" and says "we're working to get away from straw and get to a surface we can wash down daily." More than 2 years later they are still using straw, and the place still stinks. Check out this video of protesters last week commenting on the smell coming from the warehouse.
  • Not all the dogs in crates had access to water in 98 degree heat.
  • He acknowledges the dogs aren't exercised daily
  • He warns them "to be careful with their words" because "they can get these dogs killed." Sounds like he doesn't want them to tell anyone what they saw.

Markwell was aware of and acknowledged he wasn't giving the dogs adequate care more than 2 years ago.

After standing outside the warehouse for 2 days, I don't think anything has changed for those dogs.

If you don't believe me, stand outside the warehouse for a few hours, listen to the howling dogs, and smell the putrid air.

Here are the emails:Picture taken by a volunteer at the Olympic Animal Shelter. Image from

9/3/11, 1:38pm


After reconsidering our offer to volunteer on a regular basis at your sanctuary, we had to make the difficult decision that we can’t get involved at this time. The reasons for our decision are as follows:

1. You are completely overloaded with dogs.
2. We have a major problem with dogs being kept in airline crates for long periods of time.
3. Dogs being kept in darkness for long periods of time.
4. Due to the poor sanitation and lack of ventilation, the ammonia smell is almost unbearable.
5. The heat inside the building, especially for the dogs behind the glass doors.
6. Many of the dogs have no access to water.
7. No regular exercise outside on a daily basis.

Many of those dogs have severe behavioral problems. We believe that keeping them in those conditions only makes matters worse. With no rehabilitation efforts or exercise on a regular basis to release some of that energy, the boredom, frustration, and aggression will only get worse. You are putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

We hope you are able to fulfill ALL of your plans for the future. We also hope there are no hard feelings between us because of this. It was nice to meet you and we enjoyed your conversation. Best wishes and Good Luck.

9/3/11, 3:01pmDuring the 2 days I stood outside the Olympic Animal Shelter this week lots of cars came and went but we only saw 1 person go inside. Markwell was in the silver truck on the right for two hours with the motor running. Then he left and didn't return. Image from Seattle DogSpot.

Steve Markwell

I'm sorry you feel that way. We've had some problems recently -- major drop in funding at the start of the year and I had some people come in and essentially refuse to work. Our building project slowed way down, so dogs that I shouldn't have taken have had to wait way longer than planned to get kennels, and a huge section of the yard has been unusable.

I understand your concerns, and they're my concerns as well -- we have been working on a plan to get things back on track. As to the specific issues you raise:
1. Yes, we're overloaded. As I said, I took on more than I should have, and we're working to address it with new construction. We've also closed our waiting list and are not accepting more dogs for future placement. We did try to work with other groups to remove the dogs that we felt were more adoptable, and we received absolutely no support; it was very disheartening.
2. The crated dogs are a temporary situation; the ones in the hallway are getting kennels, and the ones in the main room are there only during part of the day -- they are out all night and go outside during part of the day. I'm not thrilled with the setup and am working to get kennels for them.
3. Everyone has lights in their rooms/kennels. Some of them are dimly lit, but they all have light.

4. The ammonia is a huge problem, which is why we're working to get away from straw and get to a surface we can wash down daily. Unfortunately due to lack of help, keeping everything clean is difficult and I end up having to pay someone to come in. I can't afford to do it very often -- I am working to get volunteers to help so I don't spend money we don't have.
 5. The glass doors are a bad situation -- one of the first things I will be doing when I get the new kennels built is to also get rid of those doors and replace them with wire mesh -- we will also pour concrete to bring the floor level up, so it can be washed off daily instead of using straw.
6. We don't put water in the crates because it spills, so instead we take those dogs out to drink. One of the benefits to the raw diet is that the dogs drink much less, but we are still sure to make sure everyone gets plenty of water.
7. I wish all the dogs got out every day, and my hope is that with enough help, until we can get a larger property, we can take the ones that don't get along with other dogs for daily walks, while the others play in the yards.

As far as the behavior/rehab, I respectfully submit that you were here one day and haven't seen what these dogs were like before they arrived here. You were also seeing how they reacted to you the first time they ever saw you -- you weren't seeing how things are when there are no new people. To top it off it was feeding time, and they do get very wound up -- I don't like the current feeding system and I look forward to having everyone eat in their kennels instead of the way we do it now. But for now, we have to do it this way. If you had the opportunity to see how the dogs transform behaviorally after they arrive here, I think you'd feel differently about some things.

I say none of this to argue with you or anything like that -- I'm just hoping to allay some of your concerns. I also want to caution you that if rumors begin to spread about this place, it puts the dogs at a serious risk. If we lose funding and can't pay our bills, there is truly no other place for these animals to go. I hope you'll keep that in mind -- 2011 has been a very difficult year and we are doing all we can to recover, to improve this property as quickly as we're able, and ideally to move to a larger property with a purpose-built facility as soon as we possibly can. I've learned a lot of the 'what not to do' from trying to retrofit this building, and am attempting to put that to use. It's very hard without help, but we will get where we need to go. Unfortunately all of it takes more time than I want it to, and without people to help us through the period we're in now, it will take even longer. Again, I urge you to be careful with your words -- they can get these dogs killed. I can honestly say that every dog here has made significant improvements in terms of behavior, and they are continuing to improve all the time. We see major improvements in health as well, which my vets can attest to. It's very important that we be able to continue to improve things here for the dogs and people alike, and not be put into a situation where animals will be killed. Please be cautious -- rumors have a way of escalating and becoming very destructive, especially in small towns.

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