Bad Dogs Wanted: Washington Sanctuary Saves Troubled Pups

The Olympic Sanctuary takes only dogs deemed vicious, dangerous and sentenced to death.


man hugs dog
Olympic Animal Sanctuary's owner and founder Steve Markwell gives out some TLC to one his so-called delinquent doggies. (Photos: Olympian Animal Sanctuary)

The motto of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks, Washington, is: “We Save the Dogs You’d Rather See Dead.” The safe haven for troubled dogs might be the only one of its kind in the U.S., and maybe the world.

According to the Peninsula Daily News, Olympic is home to more than 130 dogs from across the country that are labeled “dangerous” or “vicious” by county agencies. Some of these outlaw pups have been deemed dangerous to people; others pose a potential risk to other dogs.

A few aren’t dangerous at all and could be adopted.

“No matter what the dogs’ histories,” said Steve Markwell, the sanctuary’s founder and owner, “they don’t deserve to be killed for humans’ mistakes.”

A 37-year-old former big cat and bear trainer, Markwell said his previous career gives him insight into working with dogs. He’s taken on city and state governments to save dogs he thinks deserve another chance at life.

“He will drop everything and drive to the East Coast to pick up a dog—within 48 hours notice,” said Matthew Randazzo, spokesman for the sanctuary. “He takes dogs no other animal sanctuary will take.”

Markwell and Randazoo brought two dogs, Alex and Juno, to a recent Chamber of Commerce Meeting in Port Angeles. Alex, a German shepherd, had been chained to a doghouse most of his life. About 20 percent of the dogs at Olympic had once been chained. 

Fearful and threatening while chained, shepherd Alex craved human attention as soon as he was released from the chain. Juno, the Great Dane, had been accused of killing another dog. While Markwell sees no evidence of violence in Juno, the dog, now labeled as vicious, is sentenced to life in a cage and cannot be outside without wearing a muzzle, although he’s allowed into the exercise yard with his canine friends at the sanctuary.

Coyote hybrids, wolf hybrids, pit bulls, and a toy poodle are among the other dogs that call Olympia home.

The Olympic Sanctuary, a registered 501(c)3  nonprofit is always accepting donations. The shelter’s food bill is about $1,300 a week and monthly vet bills are about $1,000.

Do you think a so-called violent dog should be given a second chance?

Jocelyn Heaney is an English instructor, animal activist and freelance writer for L.A. Review of Books and Warner Bros. Pictures, among others. Her favorite animals are great white sharks, horses and all cats. She is currently at work on a memoir. Email Jocelyn | @JocelynHeaney