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Editorial: Lazy 5, animal care and the USDA

Itís easy to dismiss PETAís complaints against the Lazy 5 Ranch as the work of overzealous animal-rights advocates. With stunts like ad campaigns linking the meatpacking industry to mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer or urging that human breast milk be used in ice cream, the groupís methods often overshadow its message about humane treatment of animals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is a credible regulatory agency, however, and its comments about animal care at the popular outdoor animal park off N.C. 150 canít be so quickly dismissed. As the Post reported Thursday, USDA inspectors expressed concerns beginning last November about the well-being of a young giraffe with overgrown hooves. Months later, in May and July, the USDA said the problem hadnít been addressed. Other reports raised concerns about unsheared sheep (apparently quickly rectified) and a fallow deer with a wound on its shoulder. PETA cites those reports in its recently launched campaign against the ranch, but also goes much further in its allegations about conditions at the federally licensed facility.
A Lazy 5 employee defended the ranchís operations, dismissed PETAís assertions and suggested the USDA doesnít have adequate expertise to judge its care of exotic animals. However, the USDA has monitored such animals at zoos across the country since passage of the Animal Welfare Act (1986), intervening on their behalf in many instances. It has expertise, but it does lack authority to enforce state and local protection laws, which opens a crack in the regulatory system.
The Lazy 5 isnít some low-rent roadside animal exhibit. Itís a popular destination, drawing visitors from around the region, and it has generated few complaints in the past. The best way to continue that in the future is to address legitimate concerns swiftly and resolve issues with regulators. The animals will appreciate it. So will impressionable school kids getting their first look at a live llama or giraffe.

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