Hurricane Florence caused severe flooding in several counties across eastern and central North Carolina, putting thousands of people and their pets in danger. In Wayne County, Tammie Hedges, founder of the nonprofit animal shelter Crazy’s Claws N’ Paws, decided to shelter 27 dogs and cats away from the flooding.
For her actions, Hedges faced 12 counts of misdemeanors for practicing or attempting to practice veterinary medicine without a license and one count of solicitation of a Schedule 4 drug. Hedges doesn’t have a veterinary license, and the temporary shelter where she housed the dogs and cats isn’t licensed.
“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,” District Attorney Matthew Delbridge wrote in a prepared statement.
The Wayne County District Attorney eventually dropped the charges Sept. 26, but noted in a statement posted on Facebook that Hedges could still face repercussions from the N.C. Veterinary Medical Board.
“We are very blessed that the charges against our founder, Tammie Hedges, have been dismissed,” an official statement from Crazy’s Claws N’ Paws Facebook page reads. “We remain optimistic that no other charges will be filed, and that this is the end to a terrible, terrible situation.”
Crazy’s Claws N’ Paws is a no-kill animal shelter that rescues neglected or injured pets and finds them new homes. The group is in the process of obtaining a licensed shelter, but during the storm Hedges decided to house the pets in the space because it was safe from flooding. Volunteers were with the animals at all times, even overnight.
The organization requested donations of pet supplies — including painkillers and antibiotics — on its Facebook page. The controlled substance mentioned by the DA is a painkiller called Tramadol. According to the group’s Facebook page, one pet had a torn ligament and needed Tramadol to deal with the pain. Another pet had a skin infection requiring an antibiotic ointment to treat it. Others required amoxicillin, an antibiotic.
Wayne County Animal Control investigated the shelter Sept. 17. Hedges voluntarily relinquished the animals. Some of the pets have been reunited with their owners, and others wait for them to return after flood waters have receded.
The DA said the removal of the animals from a building that failed to meet the standards for a licensed animal shelter was made with the best interest of the animals in mind.
“This was especially true in light of her taking advantage of a dire situation to solicit money and opioid narcotics from our generous and well-intentioned citizens,” Helbridge wrote.
Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, questioned the initial decision to charge Hedges.
“To most people, Hedges’ actions were those of a Good Samaritan, not a criminal predator,” Sanders wrote. “Either way, criminalizing the act of rescuing and treating pets when veterinarians had fled for higher ground is in no way ensuring the quality of animal care in society.”
Sanders pointed out that most veterinary offices were closed during the storm. People fleeing the storm had few options to house their pets, but Hedges had space to provide.
“If you were a pet owner fleeing the flood and seeking somewhere safe for your pets, is this the outcome you would want?” Sanders asked.
Crazy’s Claws N’ Paws plans to continue helping animals and to work with state and local law enforcement. Per the group’s official statement:
“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.”