2017-12-20 / Featured / Front Page

In Chesterfield, hoarded animals get a second chance


A variety of rescued fowl, including geese, ducks and turkeys, are on the mend at the Richmond Wildlife Center off Winterfield Road. 
JAMES HASKINS A variety of rescued fowl, including geese, ducks and turkeys, are on the mend at the Richmond Wildlife Center off Winterfield Road. JAMES HASKINS With a duck at the door and a tortoise chilling near the fridge, stepping into Richmond Wildlife Center is a bit like entering the home of Dr. Dolittle.

A blue plastic tub holds a crew of bantam chickens, all trying to make an escape. A crate across the room holds a giant tan rabbit. And, at present, Melissa Stanley and two volunteers are holding a squirming chicken in their hands as they deworm it.

The center, part of a nonprofit that gives assistance to sick and injured animals, is often busy with a variety of creatures that squawk, growl and hiss, as it works to rehabilitate injured wildlife and abandoned exotic pets. But today and for the near future, they are filled to the proverbial gills with an assortment of farm animals that need their help.

Richmond Wildlife Center’s deluge of animals began on Nov. 29 when an animal control officer in Louisa County responded to a report of goats in the middle of a road. While returning the goats to their pen at a nearby farm, the officer came across more than 500 other animals that had been criminally neglected.

Cats huddled together in cages; chickens were crammed into enclosures so full of waste they could barely move. Some of the animals – which included horses, emus, sheep, guinea pigs, guinea hens, rabbits, turkeys, peacock and ducks – were in such poor shape that they had to be euthanized.

The animals’ owner, 77-year-old Clara Mae Collier, reportedly “loves animals,” and worked two jobs to support them, but the situation appears to have gotten away from her. Collier was charged with five counts of animal cruelty, which will result in her performing 500 hours of community service.

While Collier’s fate has been determined, eight animal rescues are still dealing with the aftermath of the case, including Richmond Wildlife Center, located in the northwest corner of the county. The center took in 88 of the animals, picking the most injured to care for and rehabilitate. “Horrific. They were in horrific condition,” says Melissa Stanley, standing in green scrubs next to an exam table at RWC. “Some of the birds were skin and bones. A lot of them have sores on their feet.”

Normally RWC cares for 40 to 50 animals at most. Presently, there are more than 100 at the center. And while Stanley says they have tended to the occasional abandoned chicken or duck in the past, such an influx of farm animals – or animals in general – is unprecedented.

All four rabbits in Stanley’s care are on antibiotics for a variety of reasons, including abscessed ears. She’s very concerned about the health of a baby chicken with a deformed leg and an infection.

But the guinea pigs are in the worst condition. An orange one emits an endearing high-pitched squeal as Stanley picks him up. One of the guinea pig’s eyes is white from trauma, and his lower back is damaged from some combination of dermatitis, mites, lice and bite wounds from being so closely packed with other guinea pigs.

“Most of them have eye issues. Some of them, we might end up removing the eyes,” Stanley says. “They’re all so shockingly sweet, considering how little interaction they’ve had with people.”

This center is Stanley’s creation, a place where wildlife and discarded exotic pets are treated for medical issues. Some come to stay, like Beau, the 50-pound tortoise who was hanging out near the fridge. Beau was found wandering around Chesterfield in October of 2013. As a cold-blooded creature native to Africa, he’d likely be dead if he’d remained outdoors as the season changed. He’s now gainfully employed as one of the center’s animal ambassadors, doing outreach with children.

Veterinarians volunteer their time at the center; Stanley is the lone employee, her salary paid for through a GoFundMe campaign.

The Monacan High grad initially wanted to pursue emergency pediatric medicine, but decided to pursue a different career after working on a rescue squad. Her shift to taking care of animals came after she witnessed cars straddling a frightened kitten in the middle of a road. Stanley rescued the kitten, who thanked her by biting her.

“Once it realized I was helping it, it calmed down,” she says.

Now Stanley manages the center and oversees a team of 23 volunteers. Attracting and keeping volunteers can be a challenge, as they see a lot of trauma and have to feed predators what they would eat in the wild.

“I think everyone’s expecting cat and dog food,” she says.

Sophie Solomon, a volunteer who works as a painter and set designer on the Showtime TV series “Homeland,” lauds Stanley for mobilizing the effort to transport and care for the Louisa animals.

“I’m super impressed about how Melissa was able to get everything organized and start a flow to intake those animals,” Solomon says. “A lot of [the animals] look really happy … and more comfortable. It gives me hope for the rest of the animals.”

Diane Miller, Louisa County’s shelter manager, said what the Richmond Wildlife Center did was extremely important for the health of the animals.

“They did take the worst medical cases out of all of them,” Miller says, adding that of all the shelters housing animals from Louisa, RWC had the second-highest intake.

Miller was on vacation when the care of hundreds of animals was suddenly thrust upon her shelter in Louisa.

“Hearing from everybody else, it was a very heart-wrenching scene,” Miller says.

While none of the animals is ready yet for adoption, Stanley says some of the birds will be available in a couple of weeks, including guinea fowl, turkeys, ducks, geese and a variety of chickens. It will likely be months before the guinea pigs and rabbits are ready for adoption. In the meantime, the center is soliciting donations to recover some of the food and medical costs.

Reflecting on the variety of animals she’s seen over the years – and her current situation – Stanley says it’s all part of the job.

“You never know what’s going to walk through the door.” ¦

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