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Animal Hoarder Demonstration in San Juan Capistrano Postponed, Not Cancelled

The dogs in question are getting help, but some are concerned that history will repeat.

Facebook screenshot of a page dedicated to bringing an animal rights protest against Olympic Animal Sanctuary to San Juan Capistrano.
Facebook screenshot of a page dedicated to bringing an animal rights protest against Olympic Animal Sanctuary to San Juan Capistrano.

An animal rights protest planned for this week in front of St. Margaret’s Episcopal School has been downgraded in name to a demonstration and postponed at least a week, an organizer said.

Animal rights activists from across the internet have been gripped by the ongoing saga of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, Wash., a home for dangerous dogs other organizations refuse to take, sheltered on land owned by St. Margaret’s elementary teacher Diane Hawkins.

Hawkins has also served for many years as OAS’s treasurer.

For months, protesters have claimed the sanctuary is really its own kind of hell, with the dogs confined to small crates with dirty bedding and little food to eat. The organizer of the protest – who asked that her name not be used because of personal threats she continues to receive – said she wanted Hawkins to be held accountable.

Initially, the protest was planned only if the dogs remained at Olympic. But since Patch first reported plans for the demonstration in San Juan Capistrano, there’s been an unexpected turn of events.

According to many sources, including a newspaper and television news program from Washington, OAS operator Steve Markwell packed 124 dogs onto a climate-controlled tractor-trailer and headed for warmer climes.

Initially, Markwell did not have a destination, according to the rescue group, Guardians of Rescue of Smithtown, N. Y., which responded to his call for help. The Guardians set up a rescue site – whose location was at first kept secret – where the dogs could be transferred into its custody.

While the San Juan Capistrano protest organizer is relieved the dogs are out of Markwell’s hands, there remain several troubling details, she said. First, when Forks police first started investigating OAS a year ago, there were more than 124 dogs, she said. She wants to find out what happened to as many as 100 other dogs.

Second, many of the dogs are not in great health, just as she suspected, the organizer said. The Arizona Humane Society has discovered many of the dogs, now living in the desert near the Arizona-Nevada states line but some already transferred out, to be underweight and suffering from muscle atrophy, among other ailments.

That fact alone has convinced her that Markwell was every bit the animal hoarder she was convinced he was, she said.

But perhaps the detail that has kept the demonstration in San Juan Capistrano on the activists’ calendars is that Markwell continues to ask for donations, convincing her that history will repeat.

“Recidivism on this kind stuff is 100 percent,” she said, citing a Tufts University study. “Unless people get help, they do it again.”

As for Hawkins, reported to be Markwell’s mom, “She was an active board member for years. She owned that warehouse. She was the treasurer,” the organizer said. “How can she not go up there and see those 100-200 dogs and not say, 'This is not what we should be doing?' … She herself is not a hoarder, obviously, but she enabled this. Enablers are just as bad.”

The demonstration is likely to attract 40-50 people and will be peaceful, she said.

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