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Sanctuary of Sorrow: Animal sanctuary founder now behind bars

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Photo: Video by ktnv.com

Sanctuary of Sorrow: Animal sanctuary founder now behind bars

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Aug 12, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The man who brought more than 100 dogs from Washington state to the Arizona desert is now behind bars.

Steve Markwell used to run the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, Washington. It had been dubbed the "Sanctuary of Sorrow." This week Markwell started a 20-day stint in the local jail.

Photos: Animals rescued from Sanctuary of Sorrow

Many of his critics will see that as some sort of payback even though he was convicted only of bashing a car with a terrified protester inside.

Angry dog lovers became incensed over the conditions of more than 100 dogs inside Markwell's animal sanctuary last year. Photographs taken by police and volunteers, and a detailed police report, described dogs fed once or twice a week, with sporadic access to clean water and fresh air.

Markwell then surprised everyone by taking all 124 dogs, loading them into a 52 foot semi truck and driving them through the night to a place near the Nevada-Arizona border just before Christmas.

"This was a nightmare in the making had we not been able to get them here," said Hillarie Allison at RUFFF Sanctuary in Golden Valley, Arizona.

That's where we met Buddy in January. Buddy almost died but we followed his recovery at a Henderson animal hospital.

"I've seen some neglect cases, but they were never this bad," said Veterinarian Dr. Randy Winn.

Also crammed into that truck was Herbie.

"His leg, the front left leg that he's favoring now was all lacerated," said Kris Brown with Safe Haven Kennel in Yerington, Nevada. "And he could barely put any weight on it."

Herbie and two other dogs were first rescued in Gabbs, Nevada outside Reno and eventually taken to Markwell's warehouse in Washington. The trio is now at Safe Haven in Yerington.

Markwell hasn't been charged with anything related to the animals, but he is facing new legal trouble over money he raised to care for them. A lawsuit was filed by the Washington Attorney General's Office for failing to register his nonprofit dog kennel and not accounting for more than $300,000 in donations.

Our Chief Investigative Reporter Jeff Burnside from our Seattle sister station KOMO caught up with him as he reported to jail Monday, So, you're saying you'll be able to account for all that money?"

"I already have," said Markwell.

"That's several hundred thousand dollars," said Burnside.

"I already gave it to them."

"Why are they still pursuing charges against you?" asked Burnside.

"I have no idea," Markwell answered.

The problem regarding animal-related charges is that having the number of dogs Markwell had is not a violation in Forks, Washington. City leaders there are now working to change those laws.

"Well, we can't keep going the way we've been," said Mayor Bryon Monohon. "If there's been a loophole like that and somebody comes in and sets up this shelter like what Steve had, we don't want that again. I mean, I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

A place like Olympic Animal Sanctuary couldn't exist here in Las Vegas. There are laws restricting the number of pets a person can own.

Anywhere in Clark County, you're allowed three dogs and three cats. Nye County permits any combination of up to five dogs or cats.

Additional permits are required to keep more animals for breeding, boarding or certified nonprofit rescues.

There are 18 OAS dogs left. All are scheduled to soon be moved to a rescue group in California.

Related stories on Sanctuary of Sorrow:

Sanctuary of Sorrow: Animals rescued from deplorable conditions

Locals, sanctuaries reaching out to help with rescued animals

Journey of dogs rescued from Sanctuary of Sorrow

Olympic Animal Sanctuary dog back from brink of death

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.