Wildlife Warriors

by | Dec 23, 2019 | VIRGINIA POLITICS

Roanoke’s Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center fights to stay open and save animals’ lives in the midst of lawsuits from a local Bojangles’ owner who claims the center “increases noise” and “increases traffic.” 

The Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center has been helping the animals of Roanoke, Virginia for nearly two decades: anyone who finds an injured animal can bring it to the center for rehabilitation free of charge. With emphasis on the care of native birds, the center has a small staff, largely relying on a team of volunteers to nurse animals — over 2,000 a year — back to health.

Photo via Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center

“[The center] helps injured and orphaned Virginia wildlife, with the goal of getting the animals that can survive back out into the wild,” said Martha Gish-Toney, who served on SWVA Wildlife Center board until this past September.

But for over a year now, the center has had more than just animals in need to worry about. In 2018, prominent Roanoke County business owner Stanley Seymour filed a complaint against the center, claiming that it was operating outside of county code. Seymour, who owns a Bojangles franchise, lives next to the center, and filed the complaint along with his wife and two others that neighbor it. The complaint came after the center was issued a permit to build a raptor rehabilitation building.

While Seymour’s original complaint was dismissed, it marked the beginning of a long legal battle for the SWVA Wildlife Center. In September 2018, Seymour, along with his neighbors, filed a lawsuit against the center. The lawsuit alleged that the center causes increased traffic along the private road the parties share, along with decreased property values and increased noise.

Photo via Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center

Another lawsuit was filed in Nov. 2018, complaining that the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors was wrong in approving a new raptor rehabilitation building. A third lawsuit, this time for defamation, was filed against the center during the summer of 2019.

In the midst of a legal battle, the center continues to rehabilitate animals. But the lawsuits present significant challenges for the non-profit.

“It’s very difficult on the center because of the amount of money that’s having to be diverted from the care of the animals,” Gish-Toney said. “These legal expenses are massive at this point — it’s over $75,000 today.”

This isn’t the first time Seymour has used complaints in an attempt to get rid of something inconveniencing him. In 2011, when Chick-fil-A had plans to open up in Salem, Virginia, Seymour filed a complaint regarding the zoning of the new restaurant with the Salem Board of Zoning Appeals.

“It’ll hurt my business, so I’m going to slow it down if I can,” Seymour said of the new Chick-fil-A at the time.

Photo via Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center

Seymour has twice run for a seat on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, in 2011 and in 2019. On both occasions, he came in last place.

“He does not have the support of the community,” Gish-Toney said, noting that the community has been very supportive of the SWVA Wildlife Center throughout the course of the legal battles.

“Different fundraisers, people sending in donations… there has been nothing but support from the community at this point.”

Gish-Toney said that a group called the Wildlife Warriors was created in October to raise money to offset legal fees the SWVA Wildlife Center faces. The group is totally separate from the center, and has plans to continue raising money for different wildlife causes after the SWVA Wildlife Center concludes its legal battles.

Photo via Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center

While the defamation suit is still underway, the SWVA Wildlife Center claimed victory in the two original lawsuits. However, the rulings could still be appealed.

“There’s only three centers in the state of Virginia,” Gish-Toney said. “They just want to be left alone to take care of the animals.”

Top Photo via Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center

Jimmy O'Keefe

Jimmy O'Keefe

Jimmy O'Keefe is a senior at VCU studying journalism and political science. Jimmy enjoys booking shows, eating ice cream around town, and hanging out with Oregon Hill's sweetest street cats.




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