Press Release

Kera Melrose Appointed Interim Executive Director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund

Stephen Wells retiring as executive director after sixteen years – executive search launched


SAN FRANCISCO — Seasoned attorney and animal advocate Kera Melrose has been appointed interim executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund following the announcement that — after 23 years of service with the organization — Stephen Wells will be stepping down as executive director. Under Wells’ 16-year tenure as executive director, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has earned the reputation as the leading legal animal advocacy organization in the U.S.

Melrose joined the organization in 2020 as legal campaigns director, improving processes and interdepartmental collaboration as the organization quickly scaled in size to ensure the continued unity of strategic efforts. She quickly rose through the ranks, taking on the responsibilities of the chief program officer (CPO) in January 2022. As CPO, Melrose serves as a member of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s senior executive team and is responsible for the oversight and coordination of activities across its five programs: Litigation, Legislative Affairs, Criminal Justice, Animal Law, and Pro Bono — with a combined staff of 39. In this role, Melrose develops, implements, and operationalizes the organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategic plan.

“I have complete confidence in Kera and her ability to lead the Animal Legal Defense Fund through this transition,” says Stephen Wells. “Since she joined the organization, I have been impressed by her leadership and strategic vision — and I am excited to see what the organization will accomplish for animals in this new chapter.”

“The Animal Legal Defense Fund is deeply engaged in some of the most critical litigation and conversations of our time, working to advance our mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system,” said Katherine Stirling, Chair of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “We are  grateful to Stephen for leading the growth of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in these past 16 years and to Kera for leading us through this next phase of our work.”

Among other accomplishments, Steve Wells established the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Animal Law Program, Pro Bono Program, and its in-house Litigation Program, which currently has over a hundred active matters. In his 16 years as the organization’s CEO, he grew the organization’s annual budget by more than quadruple and its staff of 13 to a staff of 93.

Melrose first connected with the Animal Legal Defense Fund during her first year of law school when she co-founded the Animal Legal Defense Fund Columbia Law Student Chapter. She has excelled in her professional, strategic, and mission-centered approach to helping animals and brings many years of animal advocacy and nonprofit management experience to the role.

Prior to joining the Animal Legal Defense Fund Melrose served as the general counsel at Farm Sanctuary, overseeing all of the organization’s legal matters, before she became the organization’s executive director. As much as she loved the organization and her position, she chose to resign to take care of an ailing family member, but remained a member of the organization’s board of directors.

Earlier in her career, Melrose worked as counsel at the PETA Foundation to develop and advance creative litigation to protect captive wild animals. She was an associate at the international firm, Latham & Watkins, where her practice included litigating pro bono cases on behalf of animal protection groups before she transitioned to white collar criminal defense at a boutique firm where she worked on several large federal criminal trials, civil litigation, and numerous investigations.

Melrose earned an A.B. from Princeton University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, and a J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she graduated a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar.

Recruitment for a permanent executive director is underway through Kittleman & Associates.


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