In her new book I Once Was Lost But Now I’m Found, Shelton, WA author Laura Koerber provides a riveting, detailed account of the 2013 rescue of 124 dogs (and one snake) from the Olympic Animal “Sanctuary” (OAS) in Forks, Washington.
She also shatters the conventional wisdom that all dog rescues are happy, idealistic places run by kind, compassionate people with no motivation other than saving dogs and finding them loving homes.
Steve Markwell founded OAS and ran it out of a dilapidated pink warehouse in an industrial area in the middle of a residential neighborhood. He claimed OAS was the last refuge for dangerous dogs facing euthanization due to severe behavior problems.
In a 2010 interview with People magazine, he said “What I’m providing is more like a group home for kids with special needs, than a dog jail,” he says. “I’m here to help these animals. Not punish them.”
Markwell promoted himself as a self-taught “dog whisperer” who could “fix” any dog regardless of its temperament.
But Markwell’s portrayal of himself and OAS was a lie.
Inside the warehouse he kept 124 dogs locked in crates, rooms, and wire cages 24/7. They lived on filthy straw soaked with their own urine and smeared with their feces. Dirty water bowls were rarely cleaned or refilled. Dogs were only fed every few days, primarily rotten, maggot-filled meat stored in unrefrigerated boxes.
Unsuspecting dog rescues and dog owners gave Markwell tens of thousands of dollars to take their dogs, not realizing he used the money to line his own pockets instead of helping the dogs they sent to him.
Ms. Koerber tells the OAS story through the plight of Daisy, a black dog she describes as “smooth-coated, a bit chunky, the kind of dog that gets called a pit bull, but is probably mostly black lab.”
Daisy was a reservation dog from the Elwah tribal community on the Olympic Peninsula. Some people “tired of watching her get beat up every day” turned her into a Port Angeles rescue group which placed her in a foster home with a couple named Jill and Steve.
Although Daisy was racked by fear and mistrust after suffering years of abuse, Jill and Steve’s patient guidance gradually enabled her to let down her guard. After a few months in their care, Daisy showed so much improvement that they decided to leave her with a sitter while they took a brief vacation. Daisy had already stayed with this sitter for a few short visits.
Unfortunately, Daisy bit the sitter’s dog during an altercation and was sent back to the rescue which labeled her a dangerous dog and was set to euthanize her. One of Jill’s contacts at the rescue intervened and sent her to OAS while Jill and Steve were still out of town.
At this point in the book, Ms. Koerber delves into the larger story of how Forks officials turned a blind eye to Markwell’s horrific treatment of the OAS dogs and allowed him to operate unfettered by any regulations or oversight.
She also details how a dedicated group of dog loving activists exposed the cruel treatment Markwell inflicted on dogs at OAS. Their work eventually forced Markwell to turn almost all the dogs over to a rescue group that found homes for most of them.
She ends the book describing Jill and Steve’s frantic efforts to find out if Daisy was one of the dogs that survived their ordeal at OAS so they could adopt her permanently and ensure she would never end up with another hideous dog rescue.
As one of the people who worked to free the OAS dogs from Markwell’s clutches, I thought Ms. Koerber did an excellent job of not only using Daisy’s story as an example of how many of the dogs at OAS ended up there while highlighting the weak laws and cowardly public officials that allow fake dog rescue groups like OAS to operate.
In addition, she shows how Markwell didn’t just hurt the dogs he “rescued.” He also inflicted emotional trauma on the well-intentioned people who sent dogs to OAS thinking they were doing what was best for the dogs but learned later of that OAS was exactly what Markwell claimed it wasn’t – a jail for dogs.
If you’re interested in the world of dog rescues or just want to read a captivating story, you should order a copy of I Once Was Lost But Now I’m Found on Amazon in paperback or as an ebook.
Ms. Koerber will donate all sales proceeds from the book to animal rescues.