FORKS, Wash. -- The first photos have been released showing some of the 124 dogs from the controversial Olympic Animal Sanctuary, now in an undisclosed location along the Nevada-Arizona border being prepared for transfer to other caregivers.
It's been a tumultuous several days in the fiery argument between embattled shelter director Steve Markwell and thousands of critics nationwide who feel the dogs had been kept in horrific conditions. Several protesters held vigil outside Markwell's dilapidated warehouse in Forks, WA.
Markwell tricked protesters by quietly constructing wooden crates inside his 52-foot truck, then loading all 124 dogs into the truck overnight Saturday and fleeing the tiny town without having any destination.
"I called Steve. He called me back," said Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue, an animal group now overseeing the transfer of the dogs. "He said 'I am on the road. I have them in the back of my semi. And we started to talk about what he was going to do. He wasn't sure at that moment. He was concerned about the safety of the animals as well as himself."
Misseri said he and Markwell had been in touch since October, hoping to find a resolution and get the dogs into other hands. But the phone call from the road was crucial.
"And I told him we can make this better, we can resolve this quickly, as long as we stick to a plan," Misseri said.
What was Markwell's demeanor when he called Misseri from the road?
"Well, I think he sounded very tired. He sounded very frustrated. I think he wants to put all this behind him," Misseri said.
Misseri says his all-volunteer group found a location along the Arizona-Nevada border where Markwell was asked to drive his truck. He arrived Monday.
"They arrived safe and they all look very healthy," he said.
Misseri's team is now overseeing the transfer of the dogs from Markwell, who will be an important part of the transition because the dogs know Markwell and Markwell knows the dogs.
Each must have a detailed profile to help with treatment, training and eventually adoption to special caretakers nationwide. Many of the dogs have behavior problems and some are dangerous.
Still, the process so many critics have clamored for appears to be happening. Misseri is asking those animal groups that offered help to come through as promised. He says it'll take more than a week just to get all the dogs checked and documented, and another couple of months or more to find them permanent homes around the country.
"A lot of people (will) sit back and look at this and say, 'You know what? It's behind us'," he said.
Misseri says he has not had time or inclination to discuss with Markwell the allegations of animal abuse, which Markwell has vehemently denied. Misseri says there are more pressing matters now.
"I made it clear to everybody: I'm not on anyone's side. I'm on the side of the dogs. And that's the bottom line," he said.
The saga of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary is not over yet but that process is now underway.
Misseri says the "complicated" undertaking will cost enormous amounts of money and is asking for donations.
More information about Guardians of Rescue is availabe here.