Monkey's Owner Pleads Guilty, Vows To Fight On

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The owner of a capuchin monkey seized by Montgomery County police pleaded guilty yesterday to illegally possessing a monkey but said the plea was a tactical legal maneuver rather than an admission of guilt.

An attorney for Elyse Gazewitz, whose pet, Armani, was seized in May, said the plea in District Court was a way to get a "ticket punched" so the "complex and interesting" issues raised by the case can be aired in a higher court.

"If we look at Armani's best interest, we have a very interesting issue," said the attorney, Anne E. Benaroya. "He doesn't realize he's a monkey, basically," and it is a hardship for him to be separated from Gazewitz.

Gazewitz was recently permitted to visit Armani at the zoo where he is being kept -- a meeting she said was emotional for both parties -- but the monkey's future remains uncertain. Benaroya said placing him in a wildlife preserve would be akin to taking a "kid from Potomac" and "placing him in Hickey," referring to a juvenile detention center in Baltimore.

Gazewitz said her pet capuchin is more like a child than a monkey. He misses her desperately and belongs home with her, she said.

"Armani will come home," she vowed yesterday.

Montgomery officials say the matter is pretty straightforward: Armani is a monkey, diapers and OshKosh B'Gosh outfits notwithstanding, and it is illegal to have pet monkeys in the county. Gazewitz broke the law, and she can't have Armani back.

"Cut-and-dry," said William A. Snoddy, an associate county attorney.

Snoddy said the prosecution has evidence that Gazewitz acquired Armani well after May 2006, the cutoff for keeping pet monkeys under a new law. People who had monkeys by that time have been allowed to keep them in some cases.

Gazewitz pleaded guilty yesterday to violating county law by possessing a monkey; interfering with animal control officers trying to seize the monkey; failing to vaccinate a dog; and failing to have dogs licensed. She is appealing all the convictions.

District Judge Patricia L. Mitchell waived a $500 fine for possession of the monkey, but Gazewitz was ordered to pay $390 for the other citations, her attorney said. The fine will be scrapped if she prevails on appeal. Defendants who plead guilty in district court do not lose their right to appeal.

Police took custody of Armani after receiving a complaint that Gazewitz had a neglected monkey. Officers found that Armani was well cared for but seized him because, for public health reasons, it is illegal to keep monkeys as pets in Montgomery.

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