Sanctuary of Sorrow: Animals rescued from deplorable conditions
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- More than 100 dogs kept in deplorable conditions at a place dubbed the "Sanctuary of Sorrow."
In a story that spans three states, Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears shows us the dogs' cross-country journey, and how landing near Las Vegas gave them a last lease on life.
"This was a nightmare in the making had we not been able to get them here," said Hillarie Allison of RUFFF House sanctuary.
The fact that these dogs are here is almost a miracle.
"They came from living in absolutely deplorable conditions, in their own waste, in darkness, no exercise, rarely fed, no fresh water, no fresh air," described Pati Winn.
124 dogs are beginning a new life at RUFFF Sanctuary in Golden Valley, Arizona. That's near Kingman, an hour and a half southeast of Las Vegas.
They came from the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, Washington, 140 miles northwest of Seattle, where they lived inside a dilapidated warehouse.
The dogs were supposedly kept at that Washington facility because they were dangerous, aggressive and unadoptable.
But we met some who are clear evidence that that was not the case for all the dogs, and many could have gone to good homes long ago.
Olympic Animal Sanctuary was founded by Steve Markwell, who spoke briefly to our Seattle sister station, KOMO, last September.
Jeff Burnside with KOMO 4 News asked, "Let me ask you, when you look over at that facility, is that really the vision that you had in mind when you started?"
"It's a starting point," said Markwell.
"It's a starting point?" asked Burnside.
"Yea. Anyway, I really don't want to do an interview," answered Markwell.
When Contact 13 got involved, Markwell didn't return any of our multiple calls or emails.
Photos, shot last year by volunteers, show the shocking conditions the dogs endured. The former volunteers describe Olympic Animal Sanctuary as:
"A hell hole, for these animals - an absolute nightmare."
"It was just so shocking."
"It's a torture chamber."
Forks Police investigated an animal cruelty complaint last year.
Their photos and reports document dogs with "very minimal space," "an overwhelming odor of urine" and little to no exercise. "The majority of crated dogs didn't have access to water."
Markwell told police the dogs ate every other day, fed only unrefrigerated, raw animal parts.
Though a citation was written, it was never issued.
Police found no violations of law.
"It broke my heart," said Pati Winn, who used to live in Las Vegas. She moved to Washington and volunteered at Olympic Animal Sanctuary, hoping to help improve conditions there.
But all she saw were dogs like Crockett, who looked like they were going crazy.
She also found Barry, a St. Bernard, dead next to his dry water bowl, "This beautiful creature lying dead next to a bone dry water bowl. It didn't have to be."
News coverage in Seattle and protests in Forks led to a middle-of-the-night getaway by Markwell in late December.
For about 1,000 miles and over four days, the dogs were confined to the back of a semi-trailer in cages stacked three high, all the way to the back.
Their cages, made of wood and wire, were barely big enough. One dog was so desperate to get out, it chewed a hole the size of its own head right through the wood.
"Mr. Markwell was terrified and had no destination," explained Hillarie Allison.
Markwell made a phone call from the road to Robert Misseri with Guardians of Rescue, who convinced him to drive the dogs to Hillarie Allison's Arizona sanctuary.
When you saw that truck open up, what were your thoughts?" asked Darcy Spears.
"I was heartbroken that the animals would have to live like that. And then thrilled that I was going to be able to facilitate getting them out of there and into a life," said Allison.
They're building kennels, recruiting volunteers, and putting out pleas for help.
"We need rescue groups who have some experience to step forward and help us and adopt a dog from us. Adopt one, two. There's some great dogs still here. Great dogs," said Robert Misseri.
Although RUFFF House will likely just be a temporary home for most of them, Pati Winn said, "I see life again. I see spirit back in their eyes. I see hope."
Some of the dogs were near death when they arrived. Many hadn't eaten in weeks.
They've been in the care of a Henderson vet, and that's where we'll take you Friday evening as we continue this special report at 6 p.m.
In conjunction with this story, you'll find a photo gallery of many of the dogs available for adoption.
If you'd like to inquire about adoption or if you'd just like to donate money for their care, call Guardians of Rescue at 1-888-287-3864 or visit their website.
Keep in mind, many of the dogs have issues and need experienced care from rescue groups.
But some are ready for a loving family.
Aside from the Olympic Animal Sanctuary dogs, there are 150 other dogs and cats at RUFFF House who need forever homes.
Most of the OAS dogs have to go to experienced rescue groups for rehabilitation before they can be adopted out to members of the public. But the RUFFF House animals are immediately adoptable.
For more information, call (928) 565-BARK, click here or email email@example.com