Sanctuary owner said hose may have triggered deadly cat attack

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by Teresa Blackman, KGW.com Staff

KING5.com

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 12:18 PM

SHERWOOD, Ore. -- A hose in a cage for wild cats may have set off the violent attack that killed an experienced keeper at an animal sanctuary in Sherwood last weekend, according to a police report obtained by KGW.

Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, was attacked and died Saturday night inside an enclosure at WildCat Haven, where she was the head keeper, according to Sgt. Robert Wurpes with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

A police report obtained by KGW said that WildCat Haven owner Michael Tuller saw Radziwon-Chapman lying lifeless on the ground and pulled her into a separate cage away from the big cats. He called 911 and said he thought she was dead.

Police arrived and noted the woman's severe injuries. They also noticed that one of the cougars had blood on its face.

The officer said Tuller was "extremely upset" and said it appeared that Radziwon-Chapman had brought a hose into the cougars' cage and "the people who work here know not to bring hoses inside the cages."  Tuller said the hose could have brought out the cougars' unusual behavior.

It appeared that Radziwon-Chapman was about ten feet away from a cage door when she was killed, the report said.

Tuller told the investigating officer, "This should have never happened... they [the caretakers] always go into the cages in pairs."

Sanctuary officials said Sunday in a prepared statement that while protocol calls for more than one worker inside an enclosure containing an animal, Radziwon-Chapman had apparently gone in alone, which violated safety rules.

Victim had reportedly shared concerns

The victim's mother, Carol Radziwon, told KGW Monday that Renee had recently shared concerns about working alone at the facility. She said her daughter was “extremely careful” and she was upset over how the sanctuary was putting blame on her.

"I resent the fact the sanctuary said it was her fault. My daughter would not do that," she said. "They broke the rules, not my daughter."

Radziwon-Chapman had worked with tigers, cougars, bobcats and lynx at the sanctuary for the past eight years.  She had a biology degree and was also a certified vet tech.

A routine inspection at the sanctuary by the U.S. Department of Agriculture a year ago listed no problems.  A check by KGW found no past history of Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaints, either.

New OSHA investigation

OSHA has launched an investigation into Radziwon-Chapman's death. Investigators will try to determine exactly what happened and how the accident could have been prevented.

"We'll look at a number of factors," explained Melanie Mesaros with Oregon OSHA. "We will talk to employees and potential witnesses, we'll look at any evidence on the scene."

The state OSHA investigation could take up to six months. The sheriff's office is also conducting a separate investigation.

Large fence did not always contain wild cats

The no-kill large-cat haven is located in the 31000 block of Heater Road in Sherwood and surrounded by high fences. 

The no-kill large-cat haven is located in the 31000 block of Heater Road in Sherwood and surrounded by high fences.

One neighbor told KGW he feels comfortable with the wild animals next door, despite the times when a bobcat and another smaller animal got loose in recent years.

“The neighbor found it on their porch and they called and the Cat Haven folks went right up and got it and then they told us what happened,” Ron Taylor said.

KGW asked the sanctuary owners and their lawyer for further explanation of how this could have happened, but they have not yet returned calls.

On Sunday, Wildcat Haven Sanctuary put a statement on its website. Here is an excerpt from that statement:

“Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our dear colleague and friend who we have so sadly lost,” said Executive Director Cheryl Tuller. “We are devastated by this loss. Not only was she one of our most dedicated staff members, we thought of her as family. We send our most heartfelt prayers to those she has left behind.”

Radziwon-Chapman leaves behind a husband and a six-month-old baby.

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KGW reporter Kyle Iboshi contributed to this report.

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