WildCat Haven Sanctuary Employee Renee Radziwon-Chapman Killed by Cougar

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Renee Radziwon-Chapman, a Portland, Oregon, resident and employee of the WildCat Haven Sanctuary near Sherwood, was killed in a cougar attack, apparently while she was cleaning a cage on Saturday, November 9.

She lived leaves behind her husband and young daughter, Noa Elise. Portland police notified Radziwon-Chapman’s husband of her death.

For eight years, Radziwon-Chapman, 36, had been the head keeper at the eight-acre sanctuary, WildCat Haven said in a statement. The organization houses dozens of rescued wildcats, and was founded in 2001.

Radziwon-Chapman is the only staff employee listed on the WildCat Haven's website, the Oregonian reports. She was a certified veterinary technician.

Two agencies are now investigating the animal sanctuary.

Cheryl and Michael Tuller, the founders and co-owners of the sanctuary, said they have been raising money to move to an 82-acre rural Marion County facility. Michael Tuller, President, returned from a visit to the new sanctuary in Scotts Mills around 6:30 p.m. Saturday, according to a Clackamas County Sheriff's deputy report. He said he noticed that Radziwon-Chapman was still at the location. She should have left by 5:30 p.m.

Tuller told deputies that he walked down to the cage and found Radziwon-Chapman inside an open area. She was lying on her back, her feet pointed toward the exit. She reportedly was about 10 feet from the cage’s door. He said she appeared to be dead.

Tuller told officers that he went inside the cage, grabbed Radziwon-Chapman by her boots and pulled her out to the sanctuary’s enclosed entrance, the Oregonian reports. He closed the door and called 911, he said.

Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputies and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue crews report that they received the call at about 6:50 p.m. and responded to the sanctuary. The deputies and medical responders then drove up the unlit private gravel road to the sanctuary about 7:19 p.m.

Inside, they report that they saw the 36-year-old female keeper, Renee Radziwon-Chapman, lying on her back behind a fence. Blood covered the ground. More blood, and what appeared to be Radziwon-Chapman’s tooth, was inside the fence, according to the Sheriff’s report.

Two cougars strolled nearby. One had blood above its nose, the sheriff’s report states.

Sheriff's office investigators remained on scene until about 10:45 p.m.

An autopsy showed the victim was bitten on her extremities and torso and was severely wounded on her neck and head, the state medical examiner’s office said Monday. The medical examiner’s office could not confirm if one or two cougars attacked her.

Dane Johnson, an attorney for the cat sanctuary released a statement Nov. 10, saying it appeared that Radziwon-Chapman was alone in an enclosure with cats that were not properly secured. The sanctuary's handbook calls for "two qualified staff members" working to secure the animals before entering the enclosure to clear or make repairs, the statement said.

Radziwon-Chapman's mother told The Oregonian that her daughter followed protocol and two days before her death she expressed concerns about her safety at the sanctuary to Cheryl Tuller, the organization's Executive Director and co-founder.

"She was worried," said Carol Radziwon. "She expressed her fears to Cheryl. She said, 'I don't want to be left alone.'"

Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators plan to visit the facility Tuesday, Melanie Mesaros, an agency spokeswoman, told the Oregonian. “It’s the first time the agency has investigated the sanctuary, which hadn’t received prior complaints,” said.

"We'll be looking at what kind of safety procedures might have been in place and what kind of training and supervision they had," Mesaros said. "We have certain rules that employers need to follow."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which licenses facilities such as WildCat Haven also has begun an investigation, said Tanya Espinosa, an agency spokeswoman. Wildcat Haven has been licensed by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service since 2007 and had no violations in its past two annual reviews, Espinosa said.

Typically, inspectors check for the welfare and safety of the animals, including housing, food and veterinary care. Yet they also require proper training for staff when it comes to animal care.

The death will not be investigated as a crime, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

Sources: Oregon Live, (2)