As Hurricane Florence barreled toward the Carolina coast, Tammie Hedges took action to protect pets that might have otherwise been caught in the storm – a decision that led to her arrest.
Hedges, a resident of Wayne County, North Carolina, was taken into custody Friday after providing care to more than two dozen animals – 17 cats and 10 dogs – for owners who had to evacuate before the storm hit.
"The owners got to evacuate. They got to save themselves. But who’s going to save those animals? That’s what we did," Hedges said. "We saved them."
The owner of Crazy's Claws N Paws, a donation-based animal rescue center, was in the process of converting a warehouse space into a proper animal shelter when she decided to use the building to help keep pets dry. However, her facility was not legally registered as a shelter.
“Our mission was to save as many animals from the flood that we could," Hedges said. "We went through Hurricane Matthew and it was horrible. There were many preventable deaths.”
She said an elderly couple dropped off 18 of the animals, some of which were sick and injured, just before the storm.
On Monday, after Florence passed, Hedges got a call from Wayne County Animal Control regarding the animals.
“He basically told me, 'You can voluntarily hand over the animals, or I can go get a warrant,' " Hedges said.
She willingly surrendered the animals.
"A few days later they called me in for questioning and yesterday they arrested me," Hedges said.
The charges included 12 counts of practicing medicine without a veterinary license.
The non-profit updated a Facebook status to breakdown 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, and 1 count of solicitation to commit a crime," the non-profit writes.
"It was all over-the-counter stuff you could literally find at Dollar Tree," said Raina Nyliram, 24, an animal rescue volunteer who started a crowdfunding campaign for Hedges to help cover legal fees. "She couldn’t get the animals to the vet because the vet was closed. All the charges are bogus."
Just days before the good deed went punished, the unregistered shelter was seeking volunteers to help take care of rescue animals.
"Please share this for anyone in the Wayne County or nearby areas that may need a place to stay or be able to help. If they have a pet and need some place to go, or just like animals, and are in need of a place to stay, we'd love to help them, in exchange for their overnight help," the center posted on Facebook.
One of those volunteers, Kathie Davidson, said she was "shocked and saddened" when animal control showed up to to take the pets.
"Of course this whole situation is unbelievable," Davidson said. "The animals seized were to be returned to their owners after the storm." Instead, she said that Animal Control has the pets.
"If they can't find the owners, the pets went from a safe place to a kill shelter," Hedges said.
The county issued a statement about the incident:
"Wayne County Animal Services turned the case over to the Wayne County District Attorney’s office based on suspicion of practicing veterinarian medicine without a license and presence of controlled substances. Ms. Hedges is considered innocent until proven guilty."
The office said that all the animals that were surrendered were checked out by a licensed veterinarian and that it is working to reunite them with their owners.
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown