Saga of dogs in 'Sanctuary of Sorrow' ending well

Saga of dogs in 'Sanctuary of Sorrow' ending well
FORKS, Wash. -- More than 100 dogs housed for years in what critics call deplorable conditions inside a filthy warehouse are now in the hands of new caretakers giving the dogs everything they need, including gifts sent by KOMO viewers.

It's the result of a nationwide firestorm among tens of thousands of animal lovers that ignited after a series of KOMO 4 investigative reports.

Much has changed now for these dogs that have come from the now-defunct shelter in Forks called the Olympic Animal Sanctuary. They now have fresh water all the time, two good meals every day, dog treats, fresh air, and the love and affection they crave.

But they are no longer in Forks. They're now far, far away in a remote Arizona desert.

It's where the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers met again with Pati Winn, a Washington woman who has made saving these dogs her mission.

"They're so happy. And they're so alive. The spirit is back in their eyes. And they're happy. Amazingly incredible!!" she laughs with joy, "…knowing what they have lived in for so very long. And what they've lived without."

Winn used to volunteer at the Forks shelter where the 160 dogs were kept for several years.

'People have to be a voice for these dogs'

Forks police took photos of the conditions inside the warehouse. The photos were obtained by the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers along with police reports and complaints by ex-volunteers who say some of the dogs were kept in plastic travel crates; many given food and water only sporadically, and dozens of them rarely - if ever - exercised. And there was the overpowering stench.

Olympic Animal Sanctuary founder Steve Markwell spoke briefly with KOMO News last summer outside his warehouse.

"Is that really what you had in mind when you started?" we asked him while looking at the tattered warehouse.

"It's a starting point," Markwell said. "Anyway, I really don't want to do an interview." Markwell walked away declining repeated requests for interviews or to take news cameras inside the warehouse to independently chronicle conditions.

Markwell has written online that the dogs were well-cared for, fulfilling his mission to give lifelong care to dogs deemed too dangerous to adopt -- dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.

Despite formal complaints and their own photos, police and city leaders say Markwell broke no laws and, besides, they said they didn't have the money to fight a legal battle.

"And that leads to a whole other kettle of fish," Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon previously told KOMO News.

The volunteers - who took their own photos fearing the situation would never change - became outraged and frustrated at Markwell and the city's inaction.

When volunteers found Barry, a Saint Bernard, dead next to his dry water bowl, they said it was the last straw. The volunteers turned to the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers.

"It's an ugly, dirty little secret that has come out," Pati Winn told KOMO News back in August "And people have to be a voice for these dogs."

Shortly after our original story, demonstrators chanting "stop the abuse!" descended on Forks on behalf of tens of thousands around the country and overseas who were angrily following the story online.

City leaders told us they were besieged with emails, letters, and telephone calls from around the world.

Immediate transformation after arrival in Arizona

Then, just before Christmas in the middle of the night, Markwell piled 124 remaining dogs into crates in his 52-foot truck and started driving, he later wrote, with no set destination. After days on the road, one man convinced him to relinquish ownership of the dogs. Robert Messeri of "Guardians of Rescue" got Markwell to deliver the dogs to an Arizona desert property run by RUFFF (Rescued Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation), where volunteers scrambled to build better facilities while the dogs could find new homes.

Messeri and others describe an immediate transformation in the dogs once away from Markwell's care, and point to the contrast in the photos taken of the dogs while inside OAS.

"We're at a point now where we have everything stable," said Messeri of the operation in the Arizona desert. "They're on a feeding schedule. Most of them have been vetted. And now the big process is getting them into other rescue groups that will take them into their lives."

"You've got a big task ahead of you," Messeri was asked.

"Tremendous. Tremendous. A lot of these dogs are going to be difficult to place."

'This is the worst I've seen - period.'

At a Henderson, Ariz. vet clinic, four of Markwell's dogs are getting urgent medical care -- especially Bubba who, days ago the vet said, had been near death. Now, he's recovering from open pressure sores all over his body, and lack of food that caused seizure on top of seizure, according to the vet.

"I've seen some neglect cases but never something this bad," declared Veterinarian Randy Winn. "This is the worst I've seen - period."

Some of the dogs have a vicious history. Others have become introverted.

But not all of the dogs seem outwardly dangerous. Roscoe, for example, is a Walkers Hound from Tennessee. Not much is known about his background but he sure appears lovable and needs a new home.

So taken from the news coverage, viewers sent gifts for the dogs to KOMO 4 News, including homemade treats, blankets, toys and much more. An entire duffel bag full of dog gifts was delivered to Messeri and the dogs.

"This is great. I can't thank you enough," he said. "Thank you. Everyone gets a birthday today."

For More Information:

Donate to the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers dog fund
Guardians of Rescue
RUFFF (Rescue Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation)
Red Rover volunteer care group