REGION — The silver-haired woman tightly clutched the charcoal-colored chinchilla as it furrowed into her blouse.
At one time, Lurlie Adams owned more than 1,000 of the animals, and sold them to people as pets.
Now, “Loverboy,” was all that the 91-year-old woman had left, after hundreds of volunteers from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the San Diego Humane Society hauled off the animals from her Adams Valley View Chinchilla Ranch in Vista in August.
PETA officials said the animals were rescued from cruel conditions at Adams’ ranch, where they said chinchillas who weren’t sold as pets were electrocuted, skinned and pelts sold.
This week, Adams announced she was fighting back, filing a $2 million defamation lawsuit against PETA and “Simpsons’” co-creator Sam Simon, who was involved with the so-called rescue effort.
“They have destroyed my good name,” Adams said. “I want people to know that I am a good person and was never cruel to the animals.”
The lawsuit alleges the agency falsely accused her of breeding those chinchilla’s for animal pelts, splicing photos and videos from other chinchilla farms in their so-called investigation to make the point.
Adams’ attorney said that the great grandmother had been raising chinchillas and selling them as pets for 30 years.
“In fact, Ms. Adams is a decent and kind woman who lovingly took care of her and her customers’ chinchillas for decades, who was trampled and abused by the malicous, selfish, misplaced animal rights and fund-raising agendas of PETA,” attorney Michael Curran wrote in a news statement. “This press release is being generated at the request of our client … to restore her good name and reputation earned over a 90-year lifetime which was maligned over the summer of 2014 by (PETA) in seeking to further their own self-serving cause and fundraising objectives.”
The lawsuit states that Adams sold the chinchillas and her business in a $50,000 “straw man” contract to Sam Simon, a former TV producer and PETA supporter, who then, along with PETA, falsely accused Adams of torture, abuse and animal cruelty and then orchestrated a rescue effort based on the false accusations.
PETA turned the animals over local humane societies and shelters, where, the lawsuit alleges, many of the animals died due to extreme heat or were euthanized.
Much of the news release and lawsuit casts a harsh light on PETA’s rescue efforts, which Curran says actually leads to more animals dying than being rescued. Citing statistics from PETA’s home state of Virginia, of the 35,000 animals rescued by the group, 31,000 wound up euthanized.
Adams recalls she received a call from a person representing an anonymous buyer — now identified as Simon — who wanted to purchase the ranch and the animals. Initially suspicious of the “shadow buyer,” Adams said she proceeded with the sale because she was looking to sell the ranch for someone to continue the business.
That was until August, when, instead of a consummation of a purchase, PETA and Humane Society officials showed up in force on the property, confiscating the animals and destroying the cages that they lived in.
The scene left Adams confused and heartbroken, she said.
“I didn’t know what was going on, and then I found out that they were calling it a rescue,” she said.
“When in fact it was a purchase,” Curran said.
PETA President Ingrid Newkirk fired back with a statement on behalf of the animal-rights group:
“This complaint isn’t good enough to line the floor of one of the metal cages in which Lurlie Adams housed chinchillas for decades — cages that stood next to a refrigerator full of pelts as well as a crude device used to painfully electrocute the animals and a chinchilla pelt-stretching drum,” Newkirk said. “Mr. Simon is an upstanding man, and thanks to him, more than 350 of the chinchillas have already been adopted into wonderful homes where they can finally be safe.”
Curran said that a judge would ultimately be the arbiter of the legitimacy of the suit.