Farewell, Dr. Mel

An ode to widely known animal advocate Dr. Mel Richardson, who recently passed away

Dr. Mel Richardson at Orland’s Farm Sanctuary with one of his many animal friends.

Dr. Mel Richardson at Orland’s Farm Sanctuary with one of his many animal friends.

PHOTO Courtesy of dawn garcia

Farewell, Dr. Mel
Widely known animal advocate, longtime veterinarian and former Paradise resident Dr. Mel Richardson passed away of heart failure on Jan. 2 at age 63 in the state of Georgia. His close friend, local avian ecologist Dawn Garcia (who I have written about more than once in these Greenways pages) asked if she could share her thoughts on this good man:

“Family and friends mourn the loss of our dear friend and animal advocate Dr. Mel Richardson, known to many simply as ‘Dr. Mel.’ Mel had a way of making you feel safe with a warm hug and generous smile, and he loved a good joke. His calm demeanor and confidence made people and animals at ease. …

“In Chico, many knew Mel as their local veterinarian working for various clinics including Mangrove Veterinary Hospital and … Valley Oak Veterinary Center.

“But Dr. Mel’s passion was for the wild ones. Mel had a longtime career with the zoo and captive-wildlife business, [but later] realized the wrongs of industries that use animals as commodities. This increasing awareness sparked the momentum for Mel to change his focus: In the late 1990s, he began to shift his career using his veterinary skills and exotic-animal experience to defend animal welfare, particularly … the well-being of captive wild animals.

“Mel found his partners in kindred organizations including In Defense of Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Animal Defenders International (ADI), Chimp Sanctuary Northwest, Animal Legal Defense Fund, The Humane Society of the United States, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), and others. Mel preferred to support organizations that do not believe in breeding animals for profit … often in inhumane conditions.

“In 2007, he was hired as the veterinarian for PAWS in San Andreas, Calif., working with founders Ed Stewart and Pat Derby. Mel was integral in moving zoo and circus elephants to this lush sanctuary, where they could roam, bathe in ponds, take down trees and socialize in herds. No more chaining, breeding, living in constricted areas or performing impossible tricks for entertainment. Dr. Mel later teamed with ADI founders Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips in the world’s most ambitious and daring animal rescue in Bolivia [of 25 lions from illegal traveling circuses]; the resulting [documentary], Lion Ark, depicts the lions’ real-life journey and release to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.

“Dr. Mel also provided expert testimony for legal cases, hearings and the media. Working with groundbreaking lawsuits to stop animal abuse, he testified for the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, Ban the Bullhook, the Great Ape Protection Act and numerous individual cases. He had become a powerful voice for the voiceless.

“More recently, Mel had moved bears from concrete moats in roadside zoos to The Wild Animal Sanctuary. Mel was anticipating assisting with another ADI rescue effort in 2014 to bring circus animals out of Peru.

“In honor of Dr. Mel, please help support ADI in its mission to Peru, or any of the organizations above. To learn more about the captive animal industry, see such films as Blackfish, An Apology to Elephants, Lion Ark and How I Became an Elephant.”

Bird count for kids!
The Chico Creek Nature Center is offering its first annual Chico Christmas Bird Count for Kids on Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., for kids ages 9 through 15; the event is part of the Snow Goose Festival. Cost: $5 (includes pizza at lunchtime); children must be accompanied by at least one parent. Register at www.snowgoosefestival.org. Call 891-4671 for more information.