Animal rights activists are putting the squeeze on a man they say is an animal hoarder from Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, and if the dogs are not soon in safe hands, they’re going to bring their protest to San Juan Capistrano.
Forks, Wash. may be 1,265 miles from San Juan, but the local connection is strong. Olympic Animal Sanctuary is run by Steve Markwell on property owned by Diane Hawkins, a lower school teacher at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School. Hawkins is also listed as the nonprofit’s treasurer on tax returns, using the school’s address. (Markwell now says Hawkins is no longer on the board.)
Hawkins could not be reached for this report.
For months, animal activists have claimed the 120-plus dogs housed at Olympic Animal Sanctuary are kept in unsafe conditions. A television news report documented dogs forever crated in dirty straw, periodically without food and water. Local police investigated, leading an officer to report he found “an overwhelming odor of urine … so strong that my eyes began to tear up and I began to cough."
No charges, however, were ever filed. Local laws there have “no teeth,” a police administrator told the Peninsula Daily News.
One Los Angeles-based animal rights activist, who asked that her name not be used because of threats she has received from the sanctuary’s supporters and even Markwell himself, decided taking the protest to San Juan Capistrano might have faster results.
About two weeks ago, she contacted Headmaster William Moseley, revealing her plans to picket on the sidewalks near the school.
“At this point, Diane Hawkins hasn’t been personally responsible for any of this yet. She needs to be personally effected for things to change,” the activist said.
At the same time, she’s not looking for a violent protest. She promises it will be peaceful – she’s not only informed the school but also the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and plans to bring her own security.
There would be no need for a protest if activists receive confirmation the dogs are safe. Markwell told Washington media he’s willing to close the sanctuary and transfer the dogs to another organization. Then abruptly this past weekend, he loaded the dogs onto a tractor trailer and got out of Forks, according to the Peninsula Daily News.
Activists are once again alarmed that Markwell may not hand over the dogs to a responsible animal group and fear the dogs have gone days without food and proper walking. The latest is that he won’t arrive to his undisclosed destination until Tuesday.
“I feel these animals are going to go back to a bad situation, like going from one hoarder to another,” said the Los Angeles-based activist, who said legitimate organizations’ offers of help have been rebuffed.
“I just want the animals to be safe. I don’t want a protest, but it looks like there’s going to be a protest,” she said.
Currently, the demonstration is planned for Jan. 8 near St. Margaret’s. Last week, school administrators thought the protest might arrive early, and sent home a letter to parents advising them of the situation.
“St. Margaret's Episcopal School has absolutely no connection to the Olympic Animal Sanctuary. The school is unfamiliar with the operations of the animal sanctuary and does not support or oppose it,” said school spokeswoman Anne Dahlem, echoing sentiments from the letter.
“We have strongly encouraged the protesters to seek an appropriate venue away from the school for voicing their concerns, which are wholly unrelated to the school. We hope these groups will resolve matters between them without involving the school,” Dahlem said.
But the Los Angeles-based activist said the school is the perfect setting, because that’s the address Hawkins used in official Olympic Animal Sanctuary papers.
“Diane makes it look like she’s a victim. She’s not a victim. She’s been behind this for years,” she said. “She owns that property. As a landlord and as a board member, she had the obligation to make sure those dogs were healthy.”