The road was well paved but not well traveled.
Driving up Reese Hill was enchanting in a fairy-tale sort of way. The narrow blacktop curved up the gradual incline through dew-soaked forest. Occasionally large, newish houses appeared, built into clearings.
Doug Spink’s old one-room cabin—the place that caused all the controversy—was right at the top of Reese Hill Road. A dead end.
The secluded twenty-two-acre property overlooked a patchwork quilt of farms in Washington’s Sumas Valley. It was there, about five miles from the Canadian border, where Spink had settled with his family of horses and dogs.
For the thirty-nine-year-old, it made sense to live where the street stubbed out. It was the highest roost on the road. “There’s no line of sight for sniper fire,” he used to say. “That matters when you are someone like me.”
Recently released from prison, the tech company owner, encryption service provider and former stud farm operator was on probation for his part in a cross-border drug-smuggling operation. But that’s not what he meant by “someone like me.” Spink was also a known zoophile, or “zoo”—an outspoken member of a mostly covert community of people worldwide who form their primary social and sexual bonds with animals.
Spink felt that being identified by authorities as a zoo was reason enough to be vigilant. Hypervigilant, even. But he also believed he had other reasons to be concerned for his safety, and for that of the horses and dogs he called family.
For one thing, there was the cross-border custody dispute over ownership of a champion show jumping horse. “My life and my barn were plundered,” he said of this conflict. “It has been open season on my life and my home, and I’m not allowed to protect myself.”
For another, there was his belief that the federal government considered him dangerous because of his encryption expertise. He backed up that claim by referring to a US Probation and Pretrial Services poster that was sent out by his probation officer and circulated among law enforcement officers before the raid. The poster included Spink’s mug shot, a map and a list of items to search for. First on the list were:
All electronics: computers*, storage devices, video equipment, thumb drives, CD, DVD, laptops, cell phones, blackberries, wireless devices, ipods, routers, servers *if a computer is found, contact me before you touch it. They need to be treated different.
Spink’s feelings of vulnerability led him to decorate his property in a style meant to deter trespassers. A plastic skeleton left over from Halloween hung from one tree. A grinning fake skull was affixed to another. If that wasn’t enough, a typed two-page note in capital letters was laminated and nailed to a tree near the entry gate, which he always kept locked. Its warnings included this:
THERE ARE SERIOUS PROTECTION DOGS PATROLLING THIS PROPERTY 24/7—NONE LESS THAN 100 POUNDS, ALL TRAINED IN OBEDIENCE AND SCHUTZHUND WORK. THEY LOVE AND RESPECT THEIR FRIENDS, BUT RARELY WELCOME STRANGERS. THEY ARE LICENSED, WORK AS A PACK, HAVE GOOD EARS, AND THEY RUN VERY FAST DURING A CHASE. HOW FAST CAN YOU RUN?
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE AN INVITATION TO ENTER THIS PROPERTY, DON’T CROSS THIS LINE. ANYONE DOING SO IS AN ILLEGAL INTRUDER AND SUBJECT TO INTENSIVE PHYSICAL RESTRAINT AND EJECTION. ONLY THEN WILL WE CALL FOR YOUR AMBULANCE RIDE.
People called Spink paranoid, but he called it prudent.
Even with these elaborate security measures in place, Spink had grown reluctant to leave his property. He holed up there for weeks at a time. Periodically, he would venture out to pick up supplies for himself and his animals. He would wait until nightfall. Then, once neighboring houses were dark, he’d climb into his green 1992 Chevy Suburban and slowly drift down the hillside, headlights off. His truck was barely visible as it slid through the inky rural darkness.
He suspected that one day the authorities might come up the road for him. Which is why he added a warning meant specifically for law enforcement to the note nailed up near the property entrance. From the police, Spink demanded advance notice in the form of a telephone call, and a warrant: “If you do not have such an order, don’t cross this line.”
* * *
Shortly before 10:00 a.m. on April 14, 2010, Douglas Spink was three hours into a sound sleep when nineteen federal SWAT team members arrived unannounced. It was the shouting and pounding at his door that startled him awake. When he opened the door, still groggy, he saw a stack of shiny automatic weapons pointed at him. There were officers from the United States Probation Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Marshals Service, Whatcom County Sheriff ’s Office and Whatcom Humane Society. In all, about thirty law enforcement officers went to the top of Reese Hill Road to take Spink in.
His seven large-breed dogs, some trained to protect him, scrambled out of the cabin through their own door, and were soon running loose along with the four horses.
Spink’s protective instincts for his dogs were as quick as theirs were for him. He shouted commands, one dog at a time, to settle them down. “Wiskey, easy, Wando, easy, Ruben, easy, Rugi, easy, Buji, easy, Lazarus, easy, Jackson, easy…”
“It’s a miracle they didn’t get shot,” he recalled later.
But there would be no shots fired. No dog attacks. Not even mild resistance from Spink. The authorities agreed he was polite and compliant. Police didn’t even need to frisk him, because he was stark naked. The government may have considered him dangerous, but the only items officers found during their search that they tried to classify as weapons were a couple of pocket knives and a box cutter.
The media wasn’t far behind law enforcement. On cue, news helicopters hovered above Spink’s place like buzzards circling a fresh kill. Blue tarps attached to the cabin that sheltered a makeshift outdoor sitting area made the target easy to spot. That’s what stood out from above: the rooftop of the little cabin, and the blue tarps attached like wings.
Paul Peterson, a former US Air Force fighter pilot and international investment banker, and one of Spink’s former business partners, was watching television in Portland, Oregon, that day. “The news came on and it was a helicopter view of his home,” recalled Peterson. “And you know it isn’t good when the caption underneath calls it a ‘compound.’”
News outlets in Washington State were the first to report on the raid, but the lurid details caused the story to go viral worldwide: former cocaine smuggler caught running a bestiality farm featuring horses, dogs and—most peculiarly—Vaseline-slathered mice.
The story stunned and transfixed the general public. It shook the line that divided man from beast.
Readers and viewers who lived in the area were repulsed by the case, but also curious and captivated at the same time. Despite their declarations of revulsion, they found a way to gossip through the “ick” factor, telling crass jokes and marveling at what had happened just up the road in sleepy Sumas, right there in Whatcom County.
The trading of rumors would linger much longer in the region than the breaking news. The event was too scandalous for prolonged coverage. News editors wouldn’t assign investigative teams or pullout features. Reporters wouldn’t even reply to the emails Spink sent them in an effort to have his say.
Yet the raid that morning, and the headlines it generated, were far from the end of the story. And even farther from the beginning.