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Charges have been dropped against a North Carolina woman who was arrested for opening a makeshift animal shelter during Hurricane Florence.
North Carolina animal lover and good Samaritan, Tammie Hedges runs Crazy’s Claws n Paws, a non-profit organization that provides low-income families with pet food, assists in veterinary bills, and helps with supplies and other needs.
She was in the process of converting a warehouse space into a shelter when Hurricane Florence threatened the area, leaving pet owners scrambling to evacuate and find safe places for their pets. Determined to help, she offered the warehouse space as a temporary place to shelter pets from the approaching storm.
“Myself, along with independent rescuers and volunteers came together during this natural disaster to save animals. We had a plan. We had the calls for help, but we didn’t know where to put the animals. Since we recently remodeled our indoor yard sale, very little had been moved back in. We decided to use this space as our emergency disaster center. We were not open as a shelter, although we are remodeling to become approved by the state as a shelter location. We created a Facebook post for donations of food and supplies, while volunteers came and set up. On September 12, Frank Sauls with the Wayne County Animal Shelter made a press release stating they would be closed beginning the 13th to owner surrenders. We began rescuing on the 13th.”
In all, 27 animals – 10 dogs and 17 cats – were kept safe from storms and flooding in the otherwise empty warehouse. They were cared for around the clock and kept as comfortable as possible by dedicated volunteers.
But, on Monday after the storm passed, Hedges got a call from Wayne County Animal Services regarding the animals. Because the facility wasn’t registered as an animal shelter, animal control seized all 27 animals and took them to the county shelter. In addition, they arrested Hedges, charging her with 12 counts of practicing medicine without a veterinary license after she administered antibiotics, pain medicines, and over-the-counter topical ointment to some of the animals in her care.
Hedges was booked into the Wayne County Jail and was eventually released on $10,000 bond. When news of her arrest went viral, tens of thousands of supporters signed petitions, called the Wayne County D.A.’s office, and expressed outrage over the charges and treatment of a good Samaritan that protected dozens of animals during the emergency.
On Tuesday, Wayne County District Attorney Matthew Delbridge dismissed the charges against Hedges, saying, “It is my desire that, having ensured the safety of the animals in question, a dismissal of these criminal charges will minimize further distraction from my core mission of protecting the public from violent crime and allow the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board to take whatever action they may deem appropriate,” Delbridge said.
In a statement, Delbridge said that Hedges has been previously censured for unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine.
“A passion for and the love of animals is laudable, but does not excuse unnecessarily putting their health at risk when other, safer resources are available,” he said. “This was especially true in light of [Hedges] taking advantage of a dire situation to solicit money and opioid narcotics from our generous and well-intentioned citizens.”
Authorities said Hedges was charged with soliciting a Schedule IV controlled substance in connection with the case, but that charge has also been dropped. Hedges admits that she asked a veterinarian to provide Tramadol, a narcotic pain medication commonly used for pets, for one of the animals in her care.
When news of the charges being dropped was announced, Crazy’s Claws N Paws made this official statement on Facebook:
“We are very blessed that the charges against our founder, Tammie Hedges, have been dismissed. We remain optimistic that no other charges will be filed, and that this is the end to a terrible, terrible situation. We hope to devote time and energy to our rescue, Crazy’s Claws N Paws, and to our renovation of our dream project. We strive for a lifelong dedication to working with state and local law enforcement to make North Carolina safe for our animals.
We cannot begin to express our heartfelt appreciation for the outpouring of support, globally, for CCNP’s founder, Tammie Hedges…This experience has unified rescues and has made our organization realize that not only do we need to be vigilant in our rescue efforts but, also in our legislative efforts to foster animal welfare laws that are conducive to actually helping owners, rescuers, and animals.”
Animals that were sheltered by Hedges that have not yet been returned to their owners are being cared for at the Wayne County Animal Shelter.