USDA, county officials check on giraffe, other animals at Lazy 5 after PETA concerns

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 18, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Federal inspectors and county officials paid a visit to the Lazy 5 Ranch on Thursday to check out concerns raised last week by an animal rights group.
“I was out there for about three hours, and nothing I saw today would give rise to any cruelty law violations,” said Rowan County Animal Control Supervisor Clai Martin.
Two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) veterinarians inspected the roadside zoo, located on N.C. 150 in western Rowan County. They raised a few minor concerns in their preliminary report, Martin said, and the final report will be available in about three weeks.
“Out of the 800 animals they’ve got out there, there was one deer that had an abscess,” Martin said. “There was also a llama that had a protruding eye.”
Neither of those animals seemed to be in pain or distress, he said, and both were walking around and eating normally as visitors drove through. A local veterinarian, Dr. Jay Moore, is expected to check on them today.
In a press release issued last Thursday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) accused Lazy 5 Ranch of “ongoing, systemic animal neglect.”
PETA said owner Henry Hampton has failed to “provide adequate veterinary care to a young giraffe with severely overgrown hooves.”
Three USDA inspection reports from November 2010 through July cite Lazy 5 Ranch regarding the young giraffe. Starting Nov. 3, the reports say the long hooves cause an abnormal gait and put too much pressure on the animal’s heels.
Martin said Hampton and the USDA vets are working together to fix this problem.
Lazy 5 staff declined to comment on the inspection Thursday. A representative who spoke with the Post on Wednesday denied PETA’s statements and said the giraffe is making progress.
In a telephone interview Thursday, the Ohio veterinarian who tends to the ranch’s giraffes also said the animal is improving slowly and is not in any pain.
“In order to facilitate shortening of the hooves, we put coarse limestone on the floor of the pens to allow the feet to wear down to an appropriate level,” said Dr. Joseph Varga.
PETA also has said on its website that certain animals at the ranch are denied adequate shelter and water.
But Martin said the giraffes have a large barn with a wide open door and plenty of water. The rhinoceros pen also has ample water available.
Martin said he has requested statements from Moore and Varga confirming that the deer, llama and giraffe aren’t in pain or distress.
Varga said the young giraffe simply has “long toenails,” and immobilizing the animal to trim its hooves could hurt or even kill it.
Giraffes have a high risk of dying under anesthesia because of their complex body systems, he said, and they don’t respond well to physical restraint.
“In the best interest of these giraffes, we are allowing the feet to come down on their own with the help of this flooring,” Varga said. “This is a problem that is being addressed. I wish it could be corrected overnight, but that’s not going to happen.”
Varga is a general practitioner with experience in exotic animals and hoofstock. He said some USDA inspectors don’t have a background in giraffe care, and PETA just doesn’t know what’s going on.
Varga also is the attending vet for Hampton’s other operation, The Farm at Walnut Creek in Sugarcreek, Ohio.
He comes by Lazy 5 a few times per year, he said, and he uses photos and online conversations to evaluate the animal between visits. Varga’s most recent visit to the ranch was in late March.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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