Over a Barrel About a Pet Monkey

"He loved me," says Elyse Gazewitz of her monkey, Armani. He often played in this $4,000 addition she built onto her home in Rockville. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

For Elyse Gazewitz, Armani was like any other baby, right down to his daily bottle, red stroller, Huggies diapers -- except for a hole cut out for his tail -- and Desitin for the occasional diaper rash.

The four-pound, 18-inch capuchin monkey, who Gazewitz said is 1 year old, loved the tire swings, toys and small hammock in his $4,000 room, which she had built onto her Rockville home. They enjoyed their morning routine: filing their nails, dressing -- the monkey wore OshKosh B'Gosh and other infant brands -- and watching the "Today" show. When she left the room, Gazewitz said, Armani would scream, curl into a ball and clutch his favorite stuffed dog until she returned.

"He just couldn't stand being away from me," Gazewitz, 42, said yesterday, breaking into tears. "He loved me."

Now, Armani is in the custody of the Montgomery County Division of Animal Control and Humane Treatment, suspected of being an illegal resident under Maryland's wild animal law. Animal control officers seized him last week and cited Gazewitz with six civil violations. Two citations dealt with Armani's status and what animal control officers say was Gazewitz's interference when they came to her home to take him away. She was also accused of failing to supply proof that she had licensed and properly vaccinated her two dogs. Gazewitz said she was handcuffed and taken to the Wheaton police station for an hour before being released.

Gazewitz's attorney said her client has appealed the $1,800 in fines and will pay $1,344 more today to ensure that she maintains ownership of Armani -- and that he will not be euthanized -- while the appeal is pending. She must pay the $1,344 to cover boarding costs at a Thurmont zoo, which is standard in Maryland, said her attorney, Anne Benaroya.

"There is no issue of neglect or abuse," Benaroya said of the citations. "It's simply possession of a monkey."

Montgomery's animal control division is part of the police department. Police spokeswoman Blanca Kling said the division's leader, Capt. Harold Allen, declined to comment because it is "an ongoing investigation."

Kling supplied 12 pages of county and state laws about dangerous animals and threats to public health. A state law that took effect Oct. 1 forbids anyone from importing, selling, breeding or having a "nonhuman primate," including monkeys. The law also prohibits skunks, raccoons, bears, alligators, certain poisonous snakes and non-domestic cats and dogs.

In an interview last week, WRC-TV quoted Allen as saying the law grandfathered in those animals owned before May 31, 2006. "We have documentation that shows that [Armani] wasn't even born until December 2006," he added.

Gazewitz, a dog groomer, said that that's wrong and that she has the paperwork to prove it. She said she bought Armani from a Florida breeder for $6,500 shortly after his birth May 9, 2006. She declined to specify the purchase date but said it was before the deadline.

She said the trouble started early last week, when she called a Cecil County animal sanctuary to chat about foods monkeys like to eat. She said that she had never spoken before to the woman who answered the phone and that they discussed carrots, nuts and Armani's newfound taste for coconut. She said officers told her that the woman reported her, alleging that Armani was "frail and in need of a vet."

Since Armani was seized, Gazewitz said, she has not been allowed to see him, and she has had trouble eating. She worries about the toll the separation will take on her monkey. He had grown so comfortable in her home, she said, even helping himself to the TV remote control.

"He watched everything I did," she said. "Monkeys learn from their mothers."


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