Bringing Up from the Comments

Several people have written to me regarding photos of dogs and living conditions at Olympic Animal Sanctuary which have recently been posted to this Facebook page.  I am bringing up 2 recent comments from an old post about Mario, who was sent to live at Olympic Animal Sanctuary when the Memphis pound threatened to kill him.  The first comment is my response to a reader suggesting I look at the FB page with the photos and the second is a response I received from Steve Markwell, owner of Olympic Animal Sanctuary.  I want to make sure everyone interested has a chance to see the photos and read Steve’s letter in order to form their own opinions.

From YesBiscuit!:

I looked at the photos but there is little context. For example, I don’t know if I am looking at photos of dogs who have just arrived at OAS or if they have been living there for some time. As with any group that focuses exclusively on the non-white & fluffies, I expect OAS will have some dogs who arrive in rough shape, who can not be acclimated to the environment as quickly as a regular pet would, etc.

Is there any document available which outlines the allegations against OAS? Is there anyone who has provided eyewitness accounts of wrongdoing? Has anyone FOIA’d animal control or police records involving OAS (such as animal cruelty complaints/investigations), if any such records exist? If so, please let me know where to find this information. Without some sort of context, I find it impossible to arrive at any sort of informed opinion.

I don’t jump to conclusions here. I ask questions and try to be fair. I have reached out to Steve Markwell about this and if he gives me permission to share any information, I will do that.

From Steve Markwell:

Thank you for reaching out to me, as I am eager to address the malicious misinformation being spread about Olympic Animal Sanctuary. I appreciate that you asked me for my side of the story.

We have a facility that cares for animals that literally no one else will take. The animals at OAS generally have no other option besides being put to death. Many pose serious challenges in their care, which can make even the most basic tasks difficult or dangerous, and obtaining volunteers in our rural area, with adequate abilities and willingness to deal with the risks involved, is extremely difficult. This is a challenging and expensive operation to run, and I do the best I can with the resources I have.

The irony of this situation is that I was planning to announce that I had secured a new, much larger property for OAS that would allow me to greatly improve the quality of life for my animals. This leap forward has been the product of many months of hard work, but I fear it could be jeopardized by the unfortunate situation that arose this weekend.

As things stand, conditions are not ideal, but I have sacrificed everything for these animals, and I am working hard to take care of them.

That’s why I am so troubled by this misleading and dishonest Facebook page.

A couple of years ago, I had a volunteer at OAS whose erratic behavior, poor performance, and inability to work with others had become troubling. At the time, I was reluctant to fire her due to my concerns about her stability and how she might try to take out her frustration on my nonprofit, which is my entire life. Due to the unique personality types that animal rescue attracts, most major dog rescues and sanctuaries have experienced similar situations, where disgruntled and unbalanced ex-volunteers make it their mission to discredit the organization that rejected them.

On April 6, 2013, this disgruntled volunteer started a malicious Facebook page created to mislead the public about conditions at my facility. This page very openly admits that its purpose is to harass my nonprofit out of existence — a nonprofit she was very eager to be a part of before I rejected her.

Her page consists of a series of misleading photos taken when I was away from the sanctuary and had left her in charge, which she uses to paint a bleak picture of my nonprofit and to motivate uninformed strangers to contact everyone from the police to my local city attorney to run my sanctuary out of business. It is a dishonest, malicious, and personally motivated attack that does not accurately represent the care I give my animals. It is also highly irresponsible, as most of my animals would not be accepted by any other reputable organization due to safety concerns — virtually guaranteeing that if OAS goes under, they will be killed.

Over a long period of time, the person in question cherry-picked situations to make the sanctuary look bad for the specific purpose of serving a personal vendetta and discrediting me. There isn’t an animal facility on Earth where a determined volunteer couldn’t, over a long period of time, take photos that falsely characterize the conditions at the facility or the state of the animals. This ex-volunteer did everything she could to make things look bad, including staging photos. She utilized these photos recently to convince the local police to ask to inspect my sanctuary, which I consented to.

Needless to say, we’re still here. Things are not perfect — we certainly could use more resources — but I take good care of animals with no other options.

I do the best I can on a shoe-string budget that has suffered significantly under current economic conditions, and I am taking serious steps every week to improve the quality of life of my animals, such as obtaining the new property. What I need, more than anything, is money to allow me to incrementally continue to make a difference for the animals I have completely dedicated my life to helping. I receive no salary for the work I do, and I have played a central role in rescuing or rehabilitating hundreds of animals over the past several years.

I empathize and understand why people would be concerned after seeing disturbing photographs, but I assure you that I take as good of care of my animals as our resources allow. Quite frankly, if I am guilty of anything, it is of trying to do too much. I hope this unfair attack will be seen for what it is.

As counseled by my attorney, this is all I can say about this subject at this time as we explore legal remedies for this situation.

In closing, I just would like to ask you, if you are concerned for my animals, to help me give them the best life possible by supporting my sanctuary. I am committed to fighting with everything I have to give the animals under my care their best possible chance to live a fulfilling life, and I hope you will look past this regrettable situation and support my work.

This post was closed for comments, September 2013.

Mario: Play=Life

Some people asked why we should save Mario from MAS when there are so many other dogs in need of help there.  The answer is simple:  Because every pet has a right to live.

Would it have been better to allow MAS to put Mario into the dumpster?  Here is a recent photo of him at Olympic Animal Sanctuary, as posted on Facebook:

I’m so glad people came together to fight for Mario’s right to live even as the city of Memphis worked toward killing him. He has a lot of living left to do.

700 Cats Seized from Cat Sanctuary in FL

You may have been reading this week about the arrest of Caboodle Ranch owner Craig Grant. Mr. Grant operated a cat sanctuary in FL and was featured in a satirical piece on the Colbert Report about a year ago. You can see the very funny clip, which shows many of the cats and their environment here.

Local law enforcement, working with the ASPCA, have seized all of Mr. Grant’s cats (about 700). Mr. Grant intends to fight the cruelty charges. If he is ultimately acquitted, will the ASPCA give him his 700 cats back?

PETA has posted an “undercover expose” clip on its website about Caboodle. I’m not linking to it but if you are interested, you can Google it. It shows footage, obtained over a period of several months, of sick and suffering cats.  The thing I have never trusted about the PETA “undercover expose” videos is that they compile them over months. This bothers me for a couple of reasons.  How could any compassionate person watch a pet suffer for months – if that’s what’s happening – in order to document cruelty? Furthermore, if you stay at any sanctuary for an extended period, you are bound to see all sorts of things crop up and there is no way for viewers to know context once PETA has edited down months of footage to 5 minutes. For example, the place may take in one sick/malnourished/whatever cat a month and if you film for six months – BOOM, you’ve got 6 cats in bad shape for your video and you don’t have to disclose that they came in that way.  Also it’s PETA so…

What are your thoughts on this case?

Help Get Mario Home

Steve Markwell has become one of my heroes in a very short time.  He was so helpful in getting Mari(o) out of MAS and his dedication to saving the dogs many people “would rather see dead” is inspiring.  He has recently posted the story of Mario’s rescue from his own perspective and even if you followed events here as they unfolded, it’s well worth reading.

MAS is widely considered the worst shelter in America, although there are plenty of contenders to that title. […] There have been promises of reform, steps taken, and little tangible improvement in Memphis. The webcams that were installed in the shelter were supposed to show the public that MAS staff were doing a good job, treating the animals well, and that things were getting better. Unfortunately they merely revealed more abuse, more substandard care, and in the end, city employees filed a grievance, stating that the cameras made them feel unsafe. That’s right, the city employees were afraid that they might face retribution for their animal abuse caught on video, and their solution was not to stop abusing the animals, but rather, to remove the cameras. The city agreed with them.

Olympic Animal Sanctuary is raising funds for a cross country trip to pick up several dogs who can not be flown for one reason or another and bring them back to Washington.  Mario is one of the dogs waiting for a ride home.  If you are able to contribute towards this trip, please either donate online or mail a check to:

Olympic Animal Sanctuary
1021 Russell Rd.
Forks, WA 98331

Let them know your donation is to help get Mario home.  Thank you.

SC Cat Sanctuary Raided

There are new developments in a story I’ve been following here in SC.  PETA sent an undercover investigator to work 5 days a week for 6 months at an Horry Co cat sanctuary.  PETA then released a compilation video made during the undercover investigator’s time at the sanctuary and stated the cats were living “in squalor and consistent deprivation of everything that is natural to them”.  They wanted the county to bring cruelty charges against the sanctuary owner.

Prosecutors on the case countered that inspections made by ACOs which included a vet and an assistant prosecutor revealed no “unbelievable atrocities”.  In fact, the assistant prosecutor “said he personally looked at each of the more than 300 animals living in tiered crates inside the shelter and saw no evidence of abuse or neglect – or the filthy, cramped conditions PETA alleges”.

The owner had been charged with improper care of animals last September when PETA had approached authorities about the sanctuary.

After PETA went public with their video and allegations last month, a judge issued an order to seize the cats and Horry Co authorities removed 237 cats and 1 dog from the sanctuary owner this week.  The numbers break down as follows:

  • 107 cats killed
  • 101 cats being treated for medical problems by the county
  • 29 cats returned to the sanctuary owner
  • 1 dog returned to sanctuary owner

Regarding the 107 cats who were killed:

The county said the 107 cats euthanized by a licensed veterinarian was suffering from multiple medical conditions including severe infestation of herpes and ringworm, anal maggots, severe gum disease and missing teeth, tumors/lesions, multiple abdominal abscesses, seizures and cracked and bloody pads on their feet.

I am having trouble reconciling the assistant prosecutor, a vet, and some ACOs finding no evidence of neglect while personally examining 300 cats with the words “anal maggots”.  I can see perhaps missing gum disease on some cats and even possibly abscesses and bloody feet (although I wouldn’t think the vet performed a very thorough exam if these things were missed on most or all of the affected cats), but the idea that animal professionals specifically investigating claims of neglect and lack of medical care are going to miss anal maggots seems unlikely to me.  I didn’t see the abscesses or maggots in the PETA video either.

All this leaves me wondering where exactly the truth lies in this case.  On the one hand, this woman allegedly allowed cats in her care to suffer and literally rot in cages.  On the other hand, she is apparently a good enough owner to pass a vet inspection and get 31 pets back.  What do you think?

The Audacity of The Hope

From the home page of The Hope Sanctuary’s website:

We are about to be evicted from our premises. We need to fundraise and FAST.
We desperately need $1 million US to buy the Sanctuary before March 31st. If not and heaven forbid, we may have to put down all the dogs and cats we shelter. That’s over 100 dogs and 25+ cats. Please pass this on to anyone and everyone – local and overseas. Anyone with any fundraising suggestions, solutions or investors/donators – PLEASE contact us[…]

To paraphrase, give us a million bucks or we’ll kill every last one of these pets.

This “sanctuary” is in Barbados. I’ve never been to Barbados so I don’t know if there is some kinda secret definition for sanctuary there but gee, this has got to be one of the worst fundraising pitches ever. What if I give them $5 or $500,000 and then they don’t get enough from other donors to make up the $1 million needed? What happens to my money? Will it be used fund the killing of 125 dogs and cats?

OK I don’t actually have $500,000 (take a check?) so here are some alternative suggestions:

  • Look for a place to house the 125 pets that costs less than a goddamn million dollars.
  • Failing that, see if you can find permanent or foster homes for the pets. You can also network with other rescues to see who might be able to help.

Sanctuary. Ha.

“Crucifixion lasts hours. It’s a slow, horrible death.”
“Well, at least it gets you out in the open air.”