PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The employee killed this weekend by a wildcat at an Oregon animal sanctuary was described as an experienced worker who was comfortable with the animals she cared for, but is believed to have been alone with an animal in the enclosure.
Renee Radziwon, 36, of Portland, died in the Saturday night attack, Deputy Mark Nikolai of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Sunday.
KGW News reported a cougar was the animal that killed her.
"We are devastated by this loss. Not only was she one of our most dedicated staff members, we thought of her as family. We send our most heartfelt prayers to those she has left behind," said Cheryl Tuller, executive director of the sanctuary.
Tuller added that Radziwon had been working at the sanctuary as the head keeper for 8 years and was a certified tech.
The sanctuary is located in the suburb of Sherwood, outside Portland.
In a statement, the sanctuary said it has strict safety protocols ruling the entrance of a person into an enclosure. Its handbook specifies that two qualified staff members be present during the lock-out of a "dangerous" animal.
Sanctuary officials said they believe Radziwon was alone in the enclosure at the time of the attack. Officials said they are still investigating.
"Her relationship with the cats was amazing," Jim Caliva, a WildCat Haven Sanctuary board member, told The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1bqVwGU). "She knew exactly what she was doing, but apparently there was a mistake. I don't know what it could be."
Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Wurpes said Saturday that the animal was locked in a cage following the attack.
WildCat Haven officials did not immediately respond to a telephone and email messages left by The Associated Press Sunday.
Its website describes the facility as a "last hope" for more than 60 wildcats that have been abandoned or abused, including bobcats, cougars, lynx and tigers.
Caliva said Radziwon worked with all the cats at the sanctuary.
"They knew her and walked up to the fence," he told The Oregonian. "She was one of the best people I've ever met."
Cheryl and Michael Tuller opened the facility in 2001.
Last summer, the sanctuary announced plans to move from its 8-acre facility in Sherwood to an 82-acre site near Silverton and launched a fundraising effort. The Tullers did not set a timetable for the move, The Oregonian reported.
The facility is not open to the public, but does provide on-site tours to donors.
In February, a 24-year-old woman interning at a California wildcat park was killed by a lion while she was cleaning the cage. The woman's family called the incident at Cat Haven an accident. In that case, investigators believed the 5-year-old male lion lifted the door of a partially closed feeding cage with its paw and killed Dianna Hanson as she cleaned a bigger enclosure area.
Family members said they didn't believe it was a mauling, but rather a lion's rough play that turned tragic.