As Hurricane Florence barreled toward the North Carolina coast, Tammie Hedges decided to open a warehouse she had been remodeling to house pets displaced by the storm.
The animals came from the streets, where volunteers found them, and from owners who had to evacuate but couldn’t bring their pets with them, said Kathie Davidson, who volunteers for a nonprofit that Hedges founded a few years ago in Goldsboro, N.C. Many of the animals were sick, injured and neglected. Some cats were covered with so many fleas that volunteers had to scrub their play pen with bleach twice. One cat had a bleeding cut on its neck, and Hedges treated the wound with an ointment she bought from a Dollar Tree store, Davidson said.
Twenty-seven animals — 17 cats and 10 dogs — were in Hedges’s care as the storm pummeled the state.
But while many saw her actions as an act of goodwill to help animals during a natural disaster, county officials saw a violation of the law. They arrested and charged Hedges — a decision that immediately spun into a controversy in the community about 60 miles southeast of Raleigh.
Hedges is facing a dozen misdemeanor charges and accused of practicing veterinary medicine without a license. Specifically, she is charged with administering medications such as amoxicillin and a topical antibiotic ointment to the animals, according to the nonprofit’s Facebook page. The group said she is also facing one count of solicitation of a Schedule IV controlled substance for asking for a donation of tramadol, a prescription pain medication used for animals.
Hedges, who founded the nonprofit Crazy’s Claws N Paws to help low-income families with veterinary bills and pet supplies, said in a statement that she and volunteers did what they had to do to help animals displaced by the storm. She and others turned the warehouse into a temporary shelter, equipped it with crates, kennels, litter boxes and blankets, and asked for donations through social media. She said they had been remodeling the warehouse to turn it into a state-approved shelter.
“We had a plan. We had the calls for help, but we didn’t know where to put the animals. . . . We came together as a community during a difficult time to help,” wrote Hedges, who didn’t respond to calls and Facebook messages from The Washington Post on Monday.
On Sept. 17, three days after Florence made landfall on the North Carolina coast, an official from Wayne County Animal Services went to the warehouse at the request of the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees veterinary services. The official, according to a statement from the county, “developed serious concerns” that Hedges was practicing veterinary medicine without a license.
Hedges has surrendered the animals to the county’s Animal Services department, which is reuniting them with their owners, officials said.
“She had to do what she did. If she hadn’t done what she did, then they’ll be charging her with animal neglect and cruelty. … The Wayne County animal shelter has taken issue with that because it wasn’t a hundred percent by the book and by the law,” Davidson said. “What was she supposed to do? The animals were sick and hurting.”
“We just want to help animals,” Davidson added. “We don’t want to do anything wrong.”
Davidson said that the animals had nowhere else to go and that veterinary offices had closed ahead of the storm. There was an emergency veterinary clinic in another county, but she said it was impossible to transport 27 animals in the middle of a storm.
The county’s shelter had enough room for displaced animals, said Wayne County spokesman Joel Gillie, though it could not accept pets that owners wanted to surrender.
Hedges has since been released on a $10,000 bond, her nonprofit said. She has no attorney yet, though Davidson said Hedges will consult with a lawyer Tuesday.
Hedges founded Crazy’s Claws N Paws in 2013. The group relies solely on donations and volunteers, Davidson said.
“She loves animals and wants to help them. … She takes it to heart. She cries for days when she loses an animal,” Davidson said. “We just want to go back to what we do. … That’s our mission now, to get past this, to get back to doing what we do.”