Take a look at these photos taken recently.
What are we looking at here? A puppy mill? A hoarder’s place? Some one please call the SPCA and the local authorities because these animals are clearly suffering. Right?
Wrong. These dogs are already in rescue, in the Olympic Animal Sanctuary to be specific. The mission statement on their website states: “Providing a responsible alternative to certain death for abused, neglected and unwanted animals”, followed swiftly by a Donate Now button. Contrast the OAS website with the pictures above, taken from the FB page OAS – live inside the sanctuary . A quick Google search shows several Youtube videos of conditions inside the Olympic Animal Sanctuary here, here and here as well as many blog posts on the subject. Still, many people who claim to be ethical and moral animal advocates still support the OAS as well as minimizing the psychological and physical abuse the animals are clearly suffering. As someone who believes strongly in the Five Freedoms as the bare minimum animals should be experiencing in rescue, I find the stance some advocates are taking on the activities of the OAS to be baffling, to say the least.
For a bit more of a balanced view, take a moment to read Julie Hall’s take on the Olymplic Animal Sanctuary after she visited earlier in the year. Julie Hall is a journalist with no obviously relevant dog experience, and yet she can see that there are real problems at the sanctuary. This quote from her 3rd installment on the subject is what is most disturbing to me, however: “Eileen Schmitz, who has offered Markwell a 10-acre property on a zero-payment lease arrangement in Clallam County, had this to say about her continuing work with OAS: “I’m just doing my best to help a small-town nonprofit with limited resources care for its animals. I saw someone in need of help, and I offered whatever I could. I hope everyone reading this focuses on positive solutions, not distractions, and assists Olympic Animal Sanctuary as it navigates through this tough time.””
A tough time????? Limited resources???? When volunteers jump on board to try to help someone take better care of the animals they chose to offer refuge to, they need to ask themselves one very important question. Is the mission of the rescue/sanctuary in question a realistic one? In the case of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary, the responsible alternative mentioned in their mission clearly is not one they have been following for some time, if ever. If they were, they wouldn’t have taken on more animals than they could responsibly handle at that time. Why is an organization claiming to save animals not even held up to the same standard as one that is breeding them? As the OAS is run and mostly operated by one man, Steve Markwell, could he even possibly meet the needs or do any type of real rehab work with 128 dogs? The dogs who are currently in crates have to look forward only to graduating to OAS’ kennel type environment where they will be held for how long? Back to back to back with other dogs who have behavior problems in a makeshift shelter….. how will this help their psychological well being? How is it ever appropriate to take a dog out of a real shelter and place them in a crate to live? If we wouldn’t allow an adopter to do it – if it’s prosecutable or unethical to do it….. why is it defendable that this man is doing it?
In April 2013, an outside advisory committee formed with the aim to help get things on track at the OAS and started things off with a $1500 donation. They dissolved after holding 3 meetings and one of the members who had resigned made this statement: “I was excited to be asked to join the OAS advisory committee, as I thought it would be a good opportunity to give a large number of dogs a better life. However, I was frustrated and disappointed with the management of the organization and facility and resigned from the committee. I am saddened that we weren’t able to help the OAS dogs because they are the voiceless victims.”
This all brings us back around to why this was allowed to happen and why it is allowed to continue. There is only one answer – No Kill. The dogs at the Olympic Animal Sanctuary were “saved” from certain death. They would have been euthanized due to their behavior issues at the shelters where they were before being sent to the OAS and Steve Markwell. If you approach life from the modern No Kill perspective, that of avoiding euthanasia at any cost to the animal or to the organization…. you could make some sort of argument that the OAS is meeting a need. At what cost, however?
I leave you with this thought: do people honestly think that it’s acceptable for rescued animals to be kept in conditions they would never keep their own animals in and would report if they saw their neighbors doing it? To that end, I was recently in conversation with a young rescue director about the overall acceptable welfare standards in rescue and this was what she said to me-
“In the grand scheme most of the dogs in rescue are fine, things may not be ideal but it’s certainly better than being dead.”
I truly and vehemently beg to differ. “Better than being dead” is not the guiding principle that rescue or sanctuary should EVER be operating by. What many people have trouble understanding is that there is literally only one time in the lives of these animals where we have complete control over what happens to them – and that is when they are in rescue. That time needs to be taken seriously and maximized for those animals to ensure (as much as we can) that they end up on the right path going forward. Not everything is “fixable”. There is not a home for every animal, not a happily ever after for all of the dogs who find themselves in need of the system. Rescues that play the numbers game aren’t dealing with that fact and having the attitude of “better than being dead” doesn’t do it either. Pushing animals with profound needs off on some other place or some other person is not what rescue should ever be about. Sticking in there and seeing those animals either to a better place or to their death is exactly what it ought to be.
Out one side of their mouths some animal advocates are saying that every life is precious and out the other they are pushing them through and not addressing their needs or warehousing them and ignoring their suffering. That, to me, is phenomenally irresponsible.
Physical trauma will heal but psychological trauma may never heal, and adding to that burden while in rescue is unconscionable. Subjecting animals to such horrible conditions is never better than euthanizing them. When will we stop subjecting animals to our fear of death?