Law & the Courts

Taking Care of Pets During Hurricane Florence Earns Criminal Charges for a North Carolina Woman

A Coast Guard Shallow-Water Response Boat Team crew help pets stranded by floodwater caused by Hurricane Florence near Riegelwood, N.C., September 16, 2018. (Petty Officer Second Class Loumania Stewart/US Coast Guard)
The animals could easily have died without her help. Now the government wants to punish her because she’s not a licensed veterinarian.

A Wayne County, N.C., woman is facing more than a dozen criminal charges for daring to take care of some pets during Hurricane Florence.

“It was brought to my attention from some individual rescuers that were going to go out again during this disaster and save some animals,” Tammie Hedges told Reason. “They just didn’t have anywhere to put them.”

According to Reason, Hedges thought she had the perfect solution to this problem. See, Hedges runs a nonprofit called Crazy’s Claws N’ Paws — which helps take care of animals in need by giving them things like microchipping and medical care and finding them permanent homes — and the building was in an “easily accessible” area that had not been affected by the flooding. She was able to take in 17 cats and ten dogs, and she cared for them with the help of some donated supplies and devoted volunteers. She told Reason that someone even stayed with the animals at night “to make sure that the animals were not alone,” which is, quite frankly, a luxury that not even I can say I enjoy.

The problem? Although Crazy’s is currently working on “renovating a shelter site,” it is not a licensed animal shelter, which means that Hedges’s kindness is being rewarded with criminal charges. Last Monday, she got a call from the county’s animal-services manager, Frank Sauls, who said he had heard reports of flooding at the shelter site. When Hedges told Sauls that there was no flooding, he told her that he wanted to visit anyway. She kindly allowed him to come by, and things immediately took a turn for the worse.

“We didn’t even get to the room that the animals were in . . . and it was basically, “You can hand them over voluntarily, or I’m going to get a warrant,’” Hedges told Reason.

Reason reports that Sauls accused Hedges of operating a shelter and of providing veterinary care without having a license to do either. Hedges said that she kept “telling him we’re not open as a shelter,” but as “an emergency disaster center for displaced animals for a natural disaster.” What’s more, Hedges said that the de-wormer and flea medication she had been giving the animals was “over-the-counter” and therefore not illegal. (Reason notes: “Certain de-wormers and flea medications can indeed be obtained over the counter, while others require a prescription. It’s unclear which ones Hedges was using.)

Despite all these facts, a Friday press release from the Wayne County government notes that the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office has charged Hedges with twelve counts of misdemeanor practice or attempted veterinary medicine without a license and one count of solicitation of a Schedule 4 controlled substance.

The Goldsboro News-Argus reports that Hedges was arrested on Friday and has since been released on a $10,000 bond. Hedges told the News-Argus that most of the charges come from her giving amoxicillin to sick animals. Others come from her using an over-the-counter ointment, and from her allegedly trying to get an opiate called Tramadol for animals in pain.

Hedges told the News-Argus that she just doesn’t see how she could have done anything differently given the situation.

“I did what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “I’m not about to let an animal be in pain and run a fever. When I have the availability and the supplies to help them. I’m going to do it.”

Although it’s never a good idea to solicit or administer prescription drugs without proper authorization, arresting Hedges for what she did is absolutely absurd. I mean, seriously — it’s not as if she was running some kind of undercover drug ring that sells dope to children. She was simply trying to help some displaced animals out of the kindness of her own heart. These animals could very well have died without her, and facing charges for saving lives just doesn’t seem right. The purpose of the law should be to punish people who create harm, not people who reduce it.

In general, I view this situation the same way that I view cops shutting down children’s lemonade stands for not being licensed. In other words, I view it as stupid. After all, I’ve yet to hear a single story of something bad happening because someone drank one of these illegally sold glasses of lemonade, so it’s not like these cops are protecting anyone. Similarly, none of the sources covering what happened to Hedges have offered a single example of a single animal being hurt because of what she did. Theoretically, the purpose of these laws is to protect animals — and it’s wrong to use them to punish someone for doing just that.

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