The Animal Within

St. James Davis held a one-man protest in his West Covina front yard in 2000 as part of the Davises' efforts to bring Moe home from a wildlife refuge.
St. James Davis held a one-man protest in his West Covina front yard in 2000 as part of the Davises' efforts to bring Moe home from a wildlife refuge. (Los Angeles Times)

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By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

LOS ANGELES

In 1967, LaDonna Davis's boyfriend went on a trip to Tanzania and came back with quite a surprise: a chimpanzee. It was a baby still, an orphan that St. James Davis said he had rescued from the poachers who killed its mother, and it was just adorable -- "a large teddy bear," LaDonna's mother declared. They named him Moe.

St. James, a stock-car racer, became so bonded to Moe that he would carry the little fellow in a sling around his chest as he worked at his auto body shop in West Covina, Calif. When St. James and LaDonna married a couple of years later, Moe was "a combination of flower-thrower and best man," LaDonna recalls, sitting across from her mother this sunny spring day.

"Tell her about . . . " interrupts her mother, Terry DeVere.

"Oh . . . well . . ." says Davis, with well-practiced delicacy: "Moe . . . peed on a woman." All the excitement of the reception, maybe too much punch. DeVere and her daughter glow with the memories of the beautiful day and of the beautiful years that followed.

Wait a minute. Aren't they forgetting a part -- the point when Davis surely must have thought: This is crazy! A chimp? In our house?!?

Davis and her mother glance at each other.

This wasn't just any chimp, they explain patiently. This was Moe.

"He would reach his hands out and put them around your neck," says Davis, a sun-creased blonde of 64. "You couldn't turn it off," all that charm, all that love.

As Davis tells her story in the sleek conference room of a Los Angeles attorney's office, she gingerly moves her left hand, swaddled in the cotton gauze and tape that protect what remains of her thumb, a reminder that this train of sweet memories and funny stories is not going to end well.

For Davis is here to talk about a terrible thing that happened to her, an event so traumatic, so bitterly ironic, she would be forgiven for not wishing to talk about it at all. But she must. As news of the incident rocketed around the world, Davis fears some people may have come to assume that the chimp who mauled her hand and attacked her husband with such a frenzy that he remains in critical condition two months later, struggling for his life, his face forever disfigured -- was Moe.

And she wants them to know this: "I wouldn't change anything about what we did."


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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