In September of 2018 Hurricane Florence barrelled fearlessly towards North Carolina promising a world of destruction for the communities in her path.
The thought of fleeing the only home one knows is often a troubling prospect for anyone and the uncertainties that often come with impending hurricanes can leave many families unsure of how to proceed. Leaving the area on time could cost some people their jobs so it is far too often that people are evacuating at the last possible moment. An unfortunate consequence of such chaotic behaviour is what happens to the pets in the community.
One would think that any kind heart willing to go above and beyond to help these animals in need would be worthy of a key to the city but for Tammie Hedges, owner of Crazy’s Claws and Paws, the line between legality and morality ended up being quite blurred and cost her a world of trouble and controversy.
While shelters and local animal rescues scrambled to take in as many pets as possible, Tammie Hedges took to Facebook on September 12th, 2018 and posted a message offering to board pets for those whose pets might otherwise be left behind. At the time, the Wayne County Animal Shelter was also offering to board pets but they also stated that they would be closing their doors the next day, the 13th of September, regardless of how many other pets would still need a safe place to stay.
At the time, Crazy’s Claws and Paws “Yard Sale Room” was still undergoing renovations to be used as a shelter but because of Hurricane Florence making her way quickly to the area, they decided to prepare the area as quickly as possible to house pets in need. In an effort to prevent devastation, Tammie and her little yard sale room took in 27 animals! Even more astonishing, Tammie offered to take in humans in need in exchange for nothing more than helping take care of the pets.
It's the sort of thing that makes your heart swell, thinking what one woman with a heart to help can do... but after the storm passed the devastation wasn't over.
Once the storm passed, the Wayne County Animal Services got in touch with Tammie, claiming to have heard that the Crazy’s Claws and Paws had flooded. According to the shelter, representatives from WCAS asked to see inside but before being given the opportunity demanded that she surrender all of the displaced pets to them. It was no polite question, they told Tammie that if she did not surrender the animals, sight unseen, that they would return promptly with a warrant!
You're probably wondering why, right? They claimed it was because she was operating the room as a shelter illegally. Willingly, Tammie surrendered the pets to the WCAS and made sure to let the families know where they could find their pets.
However... a few days later she was brought in for questioning and arrested anyway!
Many in the community were incredibly shocked. It is a well known fact that during times of crisis such as hurricanes, many animals are displaced from their families and are never reunited. Other families have so few options regarding a safe place for their pets as they flee their homes and communities, the idea that someone would take in 27 animals without hesitation sounds like an angelic act.
As for Tammie, she does operate a licensed shelter! However, that did not stop Wayne County from pressing charges anyway.
Of the multiple charges, most were to the tune of "practising medicine without a veterinary license." In a post on Facebook, Tammie's shelter shared the charges:
1 count of administering amoxicillin to Big Momma
1 count of administering Tramadol to Big Momma
3 counts of administering amoxicillin to a white Siamese cat
3 counts of administering a topical antibiotic ointment (triple antibiotic from Dollar Tree) to a white Siamese cat
3 counts of administering amoxicillin to a cat known as Sweet Pea
1 count of administering amoxicillin to an unnamed black kitten
1 count of solicitation to commit a crime (asking for donation of Tramadol (that was suppose to be a request for a vet)
Also on Facebook, a volunteer for Claws N Paws pleaded with followers as the controversy continued to bubble and climax:
For those being judgmental and criticizing [Tammie,] you need to remember this was during a natural disaster. Even though her site wasn't flooded, all routes to everywhere were closed. The vets closed too. She had two cats come in severely sick and an injured dog. Was she suppose to let the cats spread the germs and infect everyone else? And was she suppose to let the dog suffer? She did what she needed to at that time til she could reach a vet. If your animal was in that condition, would you want someone to leave them to get sicker or stay in pain?
Many who argued in support of Tammie said that because Wayne County shelters and veterinarian offices were closed for the storm, that alone is reason to drop charges. Furthermore, Tammie was administering antibiotics to pets that owners entrusted to her care!
Yet as Wayne County received nation-wide backlash on their social media pages, as well as a petition spreading like wildfire demanding her release, they took their sweet time, refusing to budge and drop the charges against Tammie.
It wasn't until the 25th of September that we heard word the charges against Tammie would be dropped, but the statement that District Attorney Matthew Delbridge released left little empathy for all that Tammy had been through:
The protection of animals and their well-being has always been an important concern, especially during times of natural disaster. 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. The removal of animals from a building that failed to meet suitable standards for license as an animal shelter and away from the control of this defendant who has previously been censured for the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine was a prudent decision 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. 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.
The perspective of the law enforcement certainly makes Tammie sound like quite the villain. What do you think? Did she do the right thing? Did she deserve the trouble that came her way? Does Tammie and Claws N Paws deserve an apology or should she be in jail right now?