Controversial dog shelter in Forks releases pit bull to Seattle animal group
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Christi Baron/Forks Forum
A pit bull named Leroy appeared healthy and friendly as it was transferred Friday evening to members of Seattle-based Animal Aid and Rescue Foundation.

By Joe Smillie and Christi Baron
For Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES –– A pit bull named Leroy was turned over to the Seattle-based Animal Aid and Rescue Foundation after a judge ruled against Steve Markwell, operator of the controversial Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, on a contract issue.

AARF put the dog under the OAS's care in 2009.

“No more crates for Leroy. Except for in the car on the drive,” said an “overjoyed and relieved” Heather Enajibi, AARF president.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer ruled Friday in the county courthouse in Port Angeles, about 65 miles from Forks, that Markwell violated a 2009 contract that established Markwell as the dog's foster caregiver by not giving the dog back when AARF asked Nov. 4.

Rohrer said the foster agreement never transferred ownership of Leroy to Markwell. Leroy was one of 125 dogs Markwell says he has at OAS.

Conditions at OAS were not part of the judge's deliberations.

Markwell was ordered to hand Leroy over to Enajibi. The exchange was made Friday evening outside Forks City Hall. The dog seemed healthy and friendly.

“This day has been a long one, mentally and emotionally draining, but we couldn't be happier!” AARF said on its Facebook page at 11:13 p.m. Friday. “We still have a long road ahead, but this is a great new beginning for Leroy and we hope that you continue to follow his journey.”

There was no report on the AARF Facebook page about the dog's condition.

On other Facebook pages, opponents of OAS hailed the transfer of Leroy and said they hoped the rest of the dogs in sanctuary would be soon released, too.

Markwell announced last week that he now wants to close OAS, located at 1021 Russell Road in Forks, and find homes for the dogs with the help of other national animal rescue agencies.

“Is there some reason OAS doesn't want to return this dog?” Rohrer asked Markwell's attorney, Derek Medina of Port Angeles.

“Why does he want to have the dog? It's his dog,” Medina said. “It's going to be ripping it out of its home.”

Markwell listened to Friday's hearing by phone. He did not testify and made no comments.

He could not be reached for reaction after Rohrer's decision. Rohrer was formerly a District Court judge in Forks.

Enajibi asked for Leroy's return after seeing photos allegedly taken inside OAS that have been circulating on a Facebook campaign to have the shelter shut down for the past year-and-a-half.

She said pictures showed Leroy with his "ribs protruding" in an enclosure "full of what appears to be feces, a bowl of dirty water, and a wooden wall appears heavily clawed or chewed."

Critics say dogs at OAS lack proper care. Markwell has repeatedly denied that the dogs have been mistreated in any way.

Since 2008, Markwell has been taking in "bad dogs” from across the nation, dogs that have been deemed dangerous and would otherwise be euthanized. The animals reprieved to his care are housed in a 4,000-square-foot pink warehouse.

His belief, he has said, is that they should be given a place to live out the course of their natural lives. The sanctuary's motto: “We save dogs you'd rather see dead.”

AARF asked Markwell to take in Leroy in 2009 because the dog was aggressive with other dogs in AARF's care, Markwell previously told the Peninsula Daily News.

Protestors have been picketing Olympic Animal Sanctuary for about three weeks, and a major demonstration is planned for Sunday.

Enajibi said Leroy has a new home where he will be safe, but would not disclose that location.

Officials of Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab, Utah, said Thursday they would take or find homes for the dogs at OAS if Markwell “agrees to accept help from all willing and qualified rescues, and if he agrees not to take in any more dogs at his existing facility or any other.”

Markwell has not returned the PDN's telephone calls asking for comment on the Best Friends' proposal.

In the past month, police arrested a protester from Virginia for violating a court order outside OAS, then arrested Markwell and charged him with a misdemeanor for vandalizing a protester's car. 

One of Markwell's major donors is suing him, alleging he has failed to use her $50,000 donation to move the dogs out of the warehouse as she says he promised.

Last modified: December 21. 2013 2:16AM
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