Sanctuary fined for safety violations following fatal cougar attack

Sanctuary fined for safety violations following fatal cougar attack

SHERWOOD, Ore. – The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division fined a Sherwood animal sanctuary for safety and health violations after an animal keeper was attacked and killed by a cougar last year.

Renee Radziwon-Chapman was attempting to clean one of the cages at the sanctuary when a cougar attacked her on Nov. 9, 2013. She was working alone at the time.

OSHA fined WildCat Haven $5,600. The sanctuary violated its two-person safety procedure and cage latches did not fully secure dangerous cougars, according to the OSHA investigation.

"Sadly, as is so often the case, this workplace tragedy may have been prevented if the employer had followed and enforced its own guidelines when employees entered the cougar enclosures," said Oregon OSHA administrator Michael Wood.

OSHA investigators cited text messages between the victim and WildCat Haven owner Cheryl Tuller as evidence the owner knew about concerning practices. Radziwon-Chapman sent a text message days before the attack that reads, “It was really hard having you gone. I am on overload and need a breather." 

Tuller then sent Radziwon-Chapman a text the day before the attack acknowledging employees didn’t always work in pairs. It reads, “I'm sorry you had to go through alone."

Oregon OSHA cited WildCat Haven for two violations, each carrying a $2,800 fine. In addition to allowing keepers to work alone, the facility also had an “inadequate latch design” on the cougar cages, OSHA said.

“If the locks were not fully closed, they could inadvertently pop open. In order to fully secure the latch, keepers were required to enter the cage and attach a carabiner onto the latch's lock fitting,” OSHA said in a news release. “The enclosure itself was also poorly designed with no separate entry door. As a result, cougars in two separate chambers needed to be secured in order to safely enter.”

The sanctuary said in a statement that both of the violations have already been addressed.

"As an employer, we are ultimately responsible to protect the life, safety and health of our staff and volunteers," WildCat Haven said.

The sanctuary said it plans to develop and ensure compliance with "fail-proof safety procedures."

WildCat Haven has 30 days to appeal the citation.