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Cougar kills woman at WildCat sanctuary

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A cougar like the one in this 2007 file photo attacked and killed an employee at the Wildcat Haven sanctuary outside Wilsonville. The facility is not open to the public, and all its wildcats, including tigers and cougars, are accounted for.A 36-year-old Portland woman died after being bitten and attacked by a big cat at the WildCat Haven Sanctuary.

Renee Radziwon served as an animal care technician at the sanctuary, and studied at Portland State University. She was dead by the time first-responders arrived at the scene.

Clackamas County Deputy Mark Nikolai said the cat was identified as a cougar. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website, “Problem cougars that pose a risk to humans, pets or livestock will be humanely euthanized.” Although it was unclear if the sanctuary is regulated by ODFW’s wildlife policies.

Both Clackamas County deputies and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue personnel were called to WildCat Haven around 7 p.m. Saturday. The sanctuary is in the 31000 block of Heater Road in Sherwood.

“The initial report was an employee had been gravely injured on the job,” authorities reported in a news release. “Once on scene, it was confirmed the employee was deceased.”

Radziwon was the head keeper at the sanctuary for eight years and a certified vet tech. She died Saturday after being attacked by what was initially described as “a big cat.”

Sanctuary staff are looking into how Radziwon died. Late Sunday, KOIN 6 News learned she may have been tending to the cats in violation of sanctuary protocol.

The WildCat Haven Sanctuary reports having strict safety protocols. Its protocols specify that two qualified staff members shall work together during the lockout of dangerous animals.

“At this time,” the sanctuary reported late Sunday, “it is believed Radziwon-Chapman was alone in the sanctuary and alone in the enclosure with cats, who had not been shifted into a lockout area. But the investigation is ongoing.”

In tributes to Radziwon on social media, her family asks others to pass along to her daughter what an amazing, wonderful, giving person Radziwon was. Based on her Facebook images, Radziwon had a new baby girl.

“WildCat Haven Sanctuary mourns the loss of its head keeper,” the WildCat Haven Sanctuary wrote in a late-Sunday statement. “Not only was this one of our most dedicated staff members, we thought of her as family.”

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office is working with the Clackamas County Medical Examiner on this investigation.WildCat Haven is a no-kill, last hope sanctuary for cougars, tigers, bobcats and other big, wild cats. As of this summer, there were 67 animals at the sanctuary.

Some of those animals have a history of abuse and neglect and were rescued into the sanctuary after being discovered in sometimes deplorable conditions.

The local sanctuary founded by Cheryl and Mike Tuller currently sits on less than 8 acres of land in Sherwood. That will change in less than a year when they move into a home 10 times larger — 82 acres — about 40 miles south.

Last year the sanctuary rescued two Bengal tigers, Nora and Katie, from their life in Ohio. At WildCat Haven they have more space and a natural setting.

The sheriff’s office said there are no reports of the wild animals getting loose from the sanctuary and no immediate threat to the public at large.

Aaron Chapman, Radziwon’s husband, confirmed that family friends set up a support fund through the website gofundme.com, where people can donate money that will go to supporting Radziwon’s 6-month-old daughter, Noa. To make a donation go to gofundme.com/57av7o.




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