Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2013

Animal rights group PETA has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming the federal agency failed to protect birds covered by the Animal Welfare Act, and in doing so accuses Lazy 5 Ranch of neglecting birds there.

The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, says the USDA has for more than 10 years failed to enforce regulations for specific standards of care for birds. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) says birds are not currently regulated and inspected by the USDA, and facilities like Lazy 5 and other “roadside zoos” are not properly caring for their animals. Lazy 5 Ranch is located in the western part of the county on N.C. 150.

Lazy 5 Ranch owner Henry Hampton called the lawsuit a fundraising campaign.

“It’s not about the animals, it’s not about the care of animals, it’s a ploy to try to raise money because the fact that they would contact all the media outlets,” Hampton said.

PETA said in a statement, “Although birds used by exhibitors such as Lazy 5 have been covered by the AWA (Animal Welfare Act) since 2002, the USDA — which is charged with enforcing the statute — has unequivocally stated that ‘birds are not being regulated by Animal Care.’ ”

The statement says the USDA has not taken action in response to complaints regarding exhibited birds found with injuries and illness, filthy enclosures and contaminated water.

PETA points to various USDA inspections at Lazy 5 Ranch in its statement to the Post, but it does not specifically name any facilities or “roadside zoos” in its lawsuit.

When asked how many other facilities PETA felt were not properly caring for animals, Delcianna Winders, director of captive animal law enforcement, said there are hundreds, likely thousands.

“The bottom line is it’s not possible to know. If they were properly enforcing it, we’d know. We have no idea,” Winders said.

“Most of them are facilities we’ve monitored over time, ones we’ve heard complaints about or monitored over time,” she said.

PETA mentions a duck at Lazy 5 that was injured, possibly after being hit by a car, as an example of the facility’s bird-related problems. In a video provided by PETA, an injured duck is seen flailing around on the ground.

Hampton said there was no way to know how the duck was injured and with so many animals at the facility, there are many animals with many needs.

“We have 2,500 birds and reptiles in the collection. There’s constantly things that need to be done,” he said.

Hampton called the injured animal an unfortunate situation. “There are certain risks whenever animals co-mingle,” he said.

PETA’s statement said the organization wrote to the USDA in early January regarding bird-related problems, including the injured duck. USDA officials visited Lazy 5 later in January and wrote in a memo that birds were not currently regulated and inspected.

PETA also said in its statement that one of the duck enclosures contained a murky brown pond. Hampton said the pond has algae and “if we were to remove those natural parts, it would be a detriment to the fish and the other birds that would be in there.”

He believes Lazy 5 Ranch is being targeted by PETA and cites other claims of animal cruelty and neglect the animal rights group has brought against the facility.

More than a year ago, PETA raised concerns about a giraffe that had overgrown hooves.

PETA filed a private warrant against Lazy 5 for animal cruelty. Even after Lazy 5 trimmed the animal’s hooves, PETA continued with prosecution because the group said the animal was left to needlessly suffer. Hampton was found not guilty in a Rowan County court in January 2012.

Winders said PETA wants people to know Lazy 5 is a facility that the USDA is investigating for violations of the Animal Welfare Act with regards to animals they are actively regulating.

“We ask the court to set a court-ordered deadline to come out with those regulations for specific standards,” Winders said.

Hampton said he invites the public to see for themselves the facility and how the animals are treated.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253. Twitter: Facebook: