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Dog trainer vanishes, ex-wife's beau arrested

A dog trainer to Seattle's wealthy is missing and presumed dead, and the boyfriend of the man's ex-wife has been charged with murder.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mark Stover was the Pacific Northwest's dog-trainer-to-the-stars. He taught obedience to the pets of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz and Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. He also trained his own dog, Dingo — for protection.

But when Stover's killer came last month, there was nothing Dingo could do.

She was shot in the face, and when deputies arrived, the only signs of her master were smears of blood in a downstairs bedroom and hallway.

Investigators have yet to find Stover's body, but prosecutors have charged his ex-wife's boyfriend with murder in a case that may have stemmed from their divorce two years ago.

Stover's friends said they knew little about the breakup but believed he had moved on and was engaged to another woman when he disappeared.

"We never talked about that — just about the dogs," said Anacortes police animal control officer Marie Padovan. "Dogs that were uncontrollable would go to Mark and they could be controlled. It's a big loss for all of us dog people."

Stover, 57, and ex-wife Linda Opdycke, 45, opened Island Dog Adventures in the early 1990s on an island her wealthy family owned 55 miles north of Seattle. Opdycke's father was one of the founders of Washington's biggest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle.

High-end kennel
The kennel offered massages, pedicures, a raw-meat diet and weight-loss programs. The dogs roamed the island freely. Clients included Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder; former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic; Soundgarden's Chris Cornell; moviemaker Cameron Crowe and his wife, singer Nancy Wilson of the '70s group Heart; and Costco Corp. CEO Jim Sinegal. Suzuki brought his Shiba Inu there.

"People should have it so good," Cornell told Spin magazine upon a 1996 visit to the island, where he boarded two German shepherds.

Dingo, a Belgian malinois, is seen at the veterinarian's office where the dog is being treated, Nov. 4, 2009, in Anacortes, Wash. Mark Stover was the Northwest's dog-trainer-to-the-stars over the past two decades and trained his own dog, Dingo, for protection. But when Stover's killer came to his house last month, Dingo was shot in the face and the only signs of her master were smears of blood in a downstairs bedroom and hallway.AP

Novoselic said Stover worked wonders with his two big mutts. Once, the bassist left the dogs untied outside a convenience store. They didn't so much as lift their heads when police officers arrived to confront a group of loitering youngsters.

"I was really proud of them, and that's all because of Mark's training," he said.

Stover's friends said he saved many aggressive dogs from destruction by correcting their behavior. His secret, he claimed, was his knowledge of dog psychology and pack behavior. He routinely wore dark glasses, making it tough for people or dogs to read his eyes, and he played the role of the alpha male naturally.

When Opdycke filed for divorce, Stover refused to hire a lawyer, claiming he didn't need to go through anyone else to deal with someone he loved for so long. He agreed with her on dividing their assets: He would pay $175,000 for her share of the business; she would get the SUV and the horse trailer; he would get the Porsche and BMW.

And he agreed to move the business off the island, which the state is buying for a park.

In early 2008, Opdycke took out a restraining order against Stover, accusing him of harassment. She claimed that he showed up at her home uninvited and that a neighbor had caught him going through her garbage — for which he was arrested. He was always armed, she said, and when he canceled her health insurance, he mailed her a copy of the form on which he had scrawled, "Next time do not call the cops on the guy that controls your healthcare."

Opdycke, who earlier this year became a private investigator, didn't return a message seeking comment.

Boyfriend had two guns
On Oct. 28, a neighbor of Stover's reported a trespassing at a grange hall a half-mile from Stover's house. Two cars were parked out back — one was Stover's, and the other belonged to Opdycke's boyfriend, Michiel Oakes, authorities said. The neighbor reported that a man by the cars — Oakes, it turned out — had a large piece of plastic.

A deputy later saw Oakes' car and pulled him over. Oakes said he had stopped in at the grange to make a call. The deputy noted dog hair on his sleeve and piles of blankets in the back, and warned him not to trespass, according to court papers.

The next morning, Stover's fiancee reported him missing. At the house, his employees found Dingo, a Belgian malinois, bleeding profusely from gunshot wounds. (The dog is now recovering.) A bathroom reeked of bleach.

A sheriff's deputy found Oakes and Opdycke at her home. Oakes asked to go outside and get some medicine out of his car, then threw a plastic bag containing a .22-caliber pistol over an embankment, authorities said. He was also carrying a 9 mm pistol.

His attorney, John Henry Browne, said Opdycke was "deathly afraid" of Stover, and he called the case "a big whodunit." Investigators have not said whether they believe Opdycke was involved.