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Global accreditation agency to look into sanctuary attack

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Renee Radziwon-Chapman's death at WildCat Haven Sanctuary in Sherwood has left everyone there rattled, said the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries accreditation agency. The group will conduct an investigation into the sanctuarys practices later this year in order to give families time to grieve.A Washington, D.C.-based sanctuary accreditation agency has said it will be looking into the death of a Portland woman who was killed in a cougar attack at a Sherwood animal sanctuary last week.

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries said in a statement on Friday that it would be reviewing safety protocols and practices at WildCat Haven Sanctuary, where a longtime staffer was attacked while cleaning an enclosure on Nov. 9.

“At any facility, something can go wrong,” said Patty Finch, executive director of GFAS. “Clearly in this case, something went terribly wrong.”

Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, was head keeper at the big cat sanctuary for nearly a decade. She was killed after she was attacked by a cougar inside one of the enclosures.

The sanctuary is home to more than 60 tigers, cougars, lynx and other wild cats, many of which have been abused or neglected in captivity.

GFAS sets standards for the treatment and care of animals in sanctuaries all around the world. WildCat Haven is not accredited by GFAS but is “verified,” meaning it does not breed, sell or buy wild cats, and provides humane and responsible care of its animals.

WildCat Haven was inspected by GFAS officials in May 2012 and earned its verification status that September.

According to GFAS inspectors, the Sherwood sanctuary met a list of requirements as to the animals’ health, nutrition and housing.

The agency has accredited or verified more than 140 sanctuaries in 19 countries, including the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in South Africa.

Eight sanctuaries in Oregon are accredited or verified by GFAS.

“To be awarded verified status, an organization must meet GFAS’s rigorous and peer-reviewed animal care standards, which are confirmed by a site visit, and they must also adhere to a demanding set of ethical and operational principles,” the agency posted on its website.

Other agencies also investigating

Last week, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said it would not be investigating Radziwon-Chapman's death, but the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the sanctuary itself, have said they will investigate the incident and review safety protocols.

The sanctuary’s co-founders Mike and Cheryl Tuller have hired Tim Harrison, director of the Ohio-based educational group Outreach for Animals, to investigate as well. The Tullers say Harrison will review safety protocols and audit the facility.

GFAS applauded WildCat’s commitment to finding out what happened, and said it would work to bring the same kind of review to the facility.

“No one will work harder than the Tullers to review all their protocols, training and staffing,” GFAS officials said.

According to police reports, it appeared Radziwon-Chapman was cleaning the enclosure alone at the time of the attack. But sanctuary safety protocols call for two people to be on hand and move the animals into the holding area, known as a “lock in.”

Only one of the three cats that lives in the enclosure was secured, according to a statement made by the sanctuary. Two others were found inside the main enclosure when the body was discovered.

Officials at the facility have not been taking questions from the media, but did issue two press releases on Nov. 10 and 11, conveying their condolences to the family and saying Radziwon-Chapman appeared to have disobeyed protocols when she entered the facility alone.

On Friday, the sanctuary released a statement on its Facebook and Twitter pages, saying staff and sanctuary officials were still trying to come to terms with her death.

“The loss of Renee Radziwon-Chapman has been unimaginable and to find the words to express that loss is something we are still struggling with,” the sanctuary stated. “There really are no words to say what she meant to us and the wildcats that she cared for so completely. She was a force of nature that swept you up in her arms and made you believe that anything was possible. Fearless and fiercely protective, her passion and dedication to WCH was equal to none, and we are asking everyone to honor her memory by allowing her family and our family to grieve. It’s what she would have wanted.”

Just when GFAS’s investigation is set to begin is uncertain. Agency officials said they would give the sanctuary time to mourn and grieve, particularly the sanctuary’s founders.

“This was the death of someone who had become part of the Tuller family,” according to the agency’s release. “The focus of GFAS will not only be on the kind of review the Tullers themselves want, but on helping them find the strength to move forward.”



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