Sanctuary says woman killed in cougar attack didn't follow protocols

SHERWOOD, Ore. -- An employee at a Sherwood animal sanctuary who was attacked and killed by a cougar on Saturday didn't follow safety protocols, the facility says.

Sgt. Robert Wurpes of the Clackamas County Sheriff's office said the attack was reported Saturday night at WildCat Haven in Sherwood just before 7 p.m.

The sheriff's office and medical examiner said Renee Radziwon, 36, of Portland died of injuries consistent with a wild animal attack. A fundraising site has been set up for Radziwon's 6-month-old daughter.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Rick Swart on Sunday told KATU that a cougar attacked and killed Radziwon.

The sheriff's office said there were two cougars in a cage with her when she was killed. In a statement released on Sunday, WildCat Haven said Radziwon was alone with the cougars during the attack, which goes against the facility's protocols.

"WildCat Haven has strict safety protocols to ensure the well-being of everyone working at the sanctuary and all the sanctuary's neighbors. The sanctuary's handbook specifies that 'two qualified staff members shall work together during the lock out of dangerous animals. Once the animals are locked out, one staff member can safely enter the enclosure to clean or make repairs. Two qualified staff members shall be available when releasing animals from lockout areas.' At this time, it is believed that Radziwon-Chapman was alone at the sanctuary and alone in the enclosure with cats, who had not been shifted into the lockout area. Investigation is ongoing," the statement said.

Executive Director Cheryl Tuller also said the thoughts and prayers of everyone at WildCat Haven are with Radziwon's family.

WildCat Haven houses tigers, cougars and other predators. The facility is not open to the public, but does provide on-site tours to donors. According to its website, the facility has nearly 60 cats, including four tigers.

KATU's Erica Nochlin received this email on Sunday:

"My family has lost an angel this weekend. My second cousin Renee Radziwon Chapman's life was cut short by the very animals she loved. She has left us with a legacy of love and inspiration. She was a free spirit who danced to her own music. Her smile will always light the way for those who loved her."

Radziwon was an animal care technician at WildCat Haven. In 2011, she gave KATU a tour of the sanctuary for a news story about people who have exotic cats as pets.

"I don't think people realize how many cats are in captivity in back yards," said Radziwon in 2011.

Radziwon said the sanctuary was established because too many people tried to raise large cats in their back yards only to be overwhelmed when the cats grew to full sized predators.

The sanctuary started small at the Sherwood facility, but within a few years Radziwon and her team were caring for nearly 60 cats.

Radziwon's neighbor, June Slayton, said Radziwon and her husband recently became parents. Slayton said Radziwon was an animal-lover to her core, and she was dedicated to protecting wild cats.

Wurpes said the animals at WildCat Haven are kept in heavily-fenced areas. There were no reports of animals getting loose at the sanctuary.

Authorities had a difficult time getting to the scene of the attack. They had to navigate a narrow road in the dark. Wurpes said his armed deputies felt uneasy knowing there were dozens of large cats on the property.

"Talking to the other officers, it's dark and this is a remote area," Wurpes said. "The area inside there also has a wild look to it.

"They told me it was risky, I mean, they felt like it was a risky area to be in."

Wurpes said Radziwon was dead when they arrived. The cougar was locked in a cage following the attack.

Wurpes did not release any details on how the attack occurred. He said there was no danger to the public and all the cats were accounted for.

Mark Sodaro lives just down the hill from the remote sanctuary.

"Anybody passing away or just knowing what happened, it breaks your heart," Sodaro said. "I'm still kind of unnerved."

Sodaro says he can hear the cats at night.

"It's a little disconcerting, especially when you first move here, but we are used to the sounds," he said. "Frankly, we kind of enjoy listening to the tigers, but it is disconcerting knowing they are up there."

According to its website, WildCat Haven plans to move to an 82-acre property near Scotts Mills.

KATU's Erica Nochlin and The Associated Press contributed to this story.