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WildCat Haven attorney discusses the fate of cats, course of investigation

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Cheryl Tuller, co-founder of WildCat Haven Sanctuary in Sherwood, gives a tour of one of the cougar enclosures in 2006. An attorney for the sanctuary said that the cats that are believed to have attacked a keeper at the sanctuary earlier this month are still being cared for, and that no decisions would be made about what to do with the animals until after investigations into what happened are finished.The fate of the cougar that attacked a Portland woman at a Sherwood big cat sanctuary will not be decided until after several agencies have finished their investigations into what happened, according to an attorney representing the sanctuary.

Dane Johnson, an attorney representing WildCat Haven Sanctuary, told The Times on Thursday that there has been little discussion into what to do with the two cougars that were in the enclosure with Renee Radziwon-Chapman, the 36-year-old animal keeper who was killed by at least one of the two cats on Nov. 9.

“The investigation of the incident is ongoing, so there hasn’t been a determination of anything that would happen with the cat or cats that appear to have attacked Renee,” Johnson said. “I don’t know that it has been the subject of any discussions that I am aware of.”

Johnson said the two cats continue to be cared for at the facility along with the rest of the sanctuary’s more than 60 wild cats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture — which oversees animal sanctuaries and zoos across the country — has begun an investigation into what happened, as has the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Division, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the sanctuary itself.

Johnson said the sanctuary would wait until those investigations are finished before coming to a decision on what to do with the animals.

Questions linger

Radziwon-ChapmanRadziwon-Chapman was in an enclosure that housed three cougars. One of them was in a separate “lock-in” area the cats are placed in during cleanings and maintenance. It is not yet clear which of the two cougars left in the enclosure attacked Radziwon-Chapman, but sheriff’s deputies noted in their report that one of the cats had blood on its nose when investigators arrived on scene on Nov. 9.

The sanctuary includes profiles of each of the facility's nine cougars on its website.

Most of the cougars at the shelter came from private owners who could not care for the animals themselves. The cats were abused and neglected, several on the verge of death when they were brought to the sanctuary.

At least one of the cats is a wild cougar brought in after it was found sick and dying in a garage in Kennewick, Wash.

“Generally speaking, (the cats) were acquired as pets, and the owners later found that that was a poor decision,” Johnson said. “That is usually where they come from.”

Johnson did not say which of the sanctuary’s nine cougars were in the enclosure with Radziwon-Chapman at the time of the attack.

“I don’t know which cat or cats were involved in the attack, and I don’t know that it will ever be known,” Johnson said.

Animals are secure

Widely reported in the media was a statement issued by the sanctuary the day after the attack saying Radziwon-Chapman appeared to have been alone in the enclosure at the time of the attack, and that the animals were not secured in the “lock-in” area when the attack occurred.

The sanctuary’s policy is to have at least two trained staff members on hand any time someone enters an enclosure.

According to Johnson, the company has three full-time employees, including Radziwon-Chapman, as well as a fluctuating group of volunteers and the sanctuary’s co-founders Mike and Cheryl Tuller, who live on the premises.

“This sanctuary is always staffed,” Johnson said.

Johnson would not speculate on whether or not Radziwon-Chapman was alone at the sanctuary at the time of the attack, but said the sanctuary’s statement about what happened may have been misinterpreted by the media.

“It has been reported widely that the sanctuary essentially blamed Renee for something, and I don’t want to perpetuate that,” Johnson said. “The sanctuary’s purpose for releasing its sanctuary protocols was to reassure the community that the animals were secured.”

Initial reports on the night of the attack were unclear whether an animal had escaped from the sanctuary, Johnson said. And Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies arriving on the scene were hesitant to enter the sanctuary at first for fear one of the cats had escaped.

“The purpose of describing the sanctuary’s facilities and protocols was to make it clear that animals were, and are, secured and not a danger whatsoever to anyone outside the sanctuary,” Johnson said.

The investigations into Radziwon-Chapman’s death are just beginning. The sanctuary has hired Tim Harrison, the founder of Outreach for Animals in Ohio to conduct an independent audit of the facility and review safety protocols.

Johnson said Harrison has not yet begun his investigation, but said the sanctuary would take his recommendations seriously.

“Whatever his recommendations are, the sanctuary board will consider and look closely at that,” Johnson said. “We’re leaving the investigation to him.”



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