By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“I didn’t know what I was getting into when I committed to them,” said Candi Bright of the Gentle Giants Rescue and Sanctuary in Riverdale, N.J., who took three dogs from the desert rescue camp in Arizona.
“But once I did commit, I was very fortunate to find I didn’t have an aggressive Saint Bernard. I didn’t have these aggressive Pyrennes,” Bright said.
“What I had was three sweet dogs who needed a little attention and love and space.”
Former Olympic Animal Sanctuary director Steve Markwell took the dogs to Arizona in a 53-foot tractor-trailer during flight from Forks and protesters who said the dogs were mistreated.
Markwell — who denied mistreating the dogs, many of which he said he saved from court-ordered death — left Forks on Dec. 21 and arrived in Arizona on Christmas Eve.
Forty-five dogs remain at the Rescued Unwanted Furry Friends Foundation facility in Golden Valley, Ariz., Robert Misseri, president of New York-based Guardians of Rescue, said Thursday.
Agencies took most of the dogs in the first few weeks, Misseri said.
“No one’s knocking at the door anymore. That whole thing slowed down, so now we’ve got these dogs here and hoping more groups will be able to step up,” he said.
Nancy Cathey of Cathey’s K9 Rescue in Lake Isabella, Calif., said she plans to get “a few more” dogs to rehabilitate, having taken eight initially and found homes for a couple of them.
“Some of them had a little more issues that are more extreme than we had anticipated,” Cathey said Thursday.
“But they’re coming around, and we’re committed to bring them around.”
Cathey was attacked out of the blue by one of the dogs, a border collie named Baldwin, shortly after taking him in, she said.
Dogs like Baldwin, she said, can not be adopted and will need a lifetime of training and close attention.
“He’s probably going to have to go somewhere to live out his life,” she said.
A single mother with a teenage daughter adopted a young shepherd mix named Pirate, and Cathey said the dog and family have adjusted well to each other.
“They’ve had no issues with her whatsoever. She’s just a regular dog,” Cathey said.
Other dogs did not withstand the trek so well.
Four were taken to the Black Mountain Animal Hospital in Henderson, Nev.
“They were emaciated. They were in really poor conditions, maybe as bad as I’ve ever seen,” said Dawn Hershey, manager of the veterinary hospital.
“It looked like they hadn’t been fed in weeks.”
Reports from television stations in Las Vegas and Seattle showed pictures of the dogs at Black Mountain, including a pit bull named Buddy who had pressure sores on his joints, what Hershey said were essentially bed sores, that were seeping fluid.
Buddy was also suffering seizures due to a lack of food, she said.
“But he’s gained a lot of weight since he’s been in here,” Hershey said.
“It’s a huge difference from the day he came in and we didn’t think he’d make it through the hour.”
In April of last year, a Facebook page called “OAS – Life Inside the Sanctuary” showed photographs allegedly taken by former volunteers and from a police report of dogs living in the sanctuary, a pink warehouse at 1021 Russell Road, packed in crates with dirty straw and empty water bowls.
Outcry grew through the rest of the year, culminating in three weeks of protests outside the facility in December and Markwell’s flight.
With the slogan “We save dogs you’d rather see dead,” Markwell opened the facility in 2004, taking in dogs declared dangerous around the nation, eventually rising to a modest fame with profiles written about him in the Los Angeles Times, People magazine and on national television.
In an August interview with the PDN, though, he admitted being tired.
With fewer volunteers to help care for the dogs and with the Internet campaign about his facility heating up, Markwell worried about the future.
“At this point, without taking in any more dogs, I’m going to be doing this for the next 16, 18, 20 years,” he said. “Is this whole thing going to follow me that whole time?”
Though she decried conditions she saw in photos, Cathey sympathized.
“It’s an exhausting thing to do,” Cathey said of rescuing dogs. “It’s constant cleaning, it’s constant feeding, it’s constantly worrying about money. Put more stress on and it — it’s just exhausting.”
Markwell — who has made no comment since he left Forks — hasn’t been reported seen since leaving the Arizona sanctuary, where the semi truck still rests.
“He’s not in Washington, is my understanding,” Forks City Attorney Rod Fleck said.
Markwell has a bench warrant out for his arrest in Clallam County on a malicious mischief charge after he allegedly kicked the car of a protestor outside his sanctuary.
Sherri Maddox of Port Angeles asked the court for a default judgement on her lawsuit against Markwell on Tuesday and the matter is to be heard next Friday, Feb. 21.
She wants her $50,000 donation to OAS returned with interest and court costs, saying that the money was intended to go toward a new shelter.
Markwell’s warehouse still stands in Forks, but Fleck said has been unoccupied since he left.
For more on the dogs still needing homes, or to donate to their care, see the Guardians of Rescue web site at http://tinyurl.com/pdn-guardiansofrescue.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.