Charges have been dropped against a woman in Wayne County, North Carolina who was arrested last week for taking in 28 pets during Hurricane Florence.
Tammie Hedges, founder of Crazy's Claws N Paws, a nonprofit group that helps low-income families with veterinary bills, had a warehouse space she was in the process of converting into an animal shelter. The facility wasn't officially registered as a shelter yet, but Hedges opened anyway, taking in 17 cats and 10 dogs before the storm hit. Eighteen of the animals belonged to one elderly couple.
"The owners got to evacuate. They got to save themselves. But who's going to save those animals? That's what we did," Hedges told USA Today. "We saved them."
Thanks to donations, Hedges was able to buy food, crates and other supplies needed to help the animals weather the hurricane. She said volunteers stayed with the dogs and cats 24 hours a day.
But once the storm passed, Hedges learned not everyone was happy with her actions. Hedges says she received a call from Wayne County Animal Services about the animals. She was told to hand over the animals or they would get a warrant. Hedges willingly surrendered them.
But why did animal control intervene, and why was she arrested in the first place?
Charges, arrest and dismissal
Wayne County Animal Services reported Hedges to the district attorneys's office "on suspicion of practicing veterinarian medicine without a license and the presence of controlled substances." Animal control said all animals were examined by a licensed veterinarian, and it hopes to reunite pets with their owners.
A few days later Hedges was called in for questioning, and then she was arrested for administering medicines to the animals without a veterinary license, among other charges. A Facebook post on the rescue's website breaks down 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 (asking for donation of Tramadol (that was suppose to be a request for a vet))."
"I think it's really sad that when someone tries to do the right thing, they're punished for it," Kathie Davidson, a volunteer with the rescue, told CBS17.
Less than a week after her arrest, the Wayne County District Attorney's Office dropped the charges on Sept. 25, and District Attorney Matthew Delbridge issued the following statement:
"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 ac+on they may deem appropriate."
Crowdfunding and a petition
Volunteers and supporters are still contributing to a crowdfunding campaign to help cover Hedges' legal fees, but in light of her charges being dismissed the gofundme page posted the following update, "Tammie asked if we can change the direction of it to include funding towards a new shelter for CCNP." There's also an online petition asking that she not be fined. As of Sept. 26, it had more than 28,000 signatures.
Hedge's arrest prompted hundreds of comments from people who support Hedges' actions. The rescue's Facebook page has also been inundated with support from people who couldn't believe the charges.
"Sometimes you need to go with what is RIGHT even if they law says it is wrong. this lady was doing what alot of people wouldn't do..she's a hero," wrote Kimberly Ann Miller.
A few people questioned that Hedges was soliciting for and administering Tramadol. Tramadol is a drug used to treat pain in pets, but it's also used by people for pain. It's a Schedule 4 controlled substance, meaning it has a low potential for abuse or dependence, but it still can only be prescribed by a doctor or a veterinarian.
But most thought her heart was in the right place.
Wrote Cathy K: "Let's support those trying to help both animals and people in times of disaster! We could offer them education and supplies beforehand, rather than penalizing them for helping after the fact. Those of us who volunteer in animal rescue realize that sometimes you just have to do what you can with whatever resources are available in order to save lives."
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in September 2018.