Melissa Stanley, 39 

Founder and Executive Director, Richmond Wildlife Center

click to enlarge feat42_melissa_stanley.jpg

Ash Daniel

Fawns and foxes. Owls and eagles. Beavers and opossums.

Melissa Stanley has helped save them all.

When Stanley was 15, she found an injured baby bird, but no veterinarian would take it. So she brought it to a home-based rehabber, despite her trepidation. While rescuers mean well, Stanley says, trained vets can offer better care: “If you get hit by a car, where do you want to go — to someone’s house or to a hospital?”

For years, Stanley relentlessly pursued her goal of opening a wildlife hospital. She worked as a veterinary assistant to learn how to work with animals, and then took corporate jobs in accounting and consulting to gain the business acumen she needed.

In 2010 she founded a nonprofit, now called Animal Services of Richmond, and opened the center three years later. It operates a small clinic on the second floor of Winterfield Veterinary Hospital and houses recovering animals in an outdoor area across Winterfield Road. Stanley poured her personal savings into operations until a crowdfunding initiative allowed the center to hire her in September.

The Richmond Wildlife Center is more than a hospital, Stanley explains: Its volunteers are legislative advocates, public health guardians and environmental detectives. Two years ago, the center began seeing local birds poisoned by heavy metals such as zinc and chromium. The center is seeking funds to help test all animals coming in, map their rescue locations and assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in tracking down the source of the contamination — and perhaps the perpetrator.

The center treats as many as 500 animals per year. But limited space and funding force it to turn away thousands of other animals that need help. In addition to native wildlife, the center admits abandoned exotics: chinchillas, pet rabbits, cockatiels, parrots and nonvenomous snakes.

The center finds appropriate homes for them, with a few exceptions — like the African sulcata tortoise, which can live 100 years or longer and grow to be 250 pounds. “So long as our wildlife center is here,” Stanley says, “he has a home forever with us.”

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