No More Monkeying Around

Elyse Gazewitz of Rockville kisses Armani, returned to her yesterday after county officers seized him in May.
Elyse Gazewitz of Rockville kisses Armani, returned to her yesterday after county officers seized him in May. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Armani the capuchin monkey went home to Rockville last night, seemingly befuddled by the legal and media frenzy his custody dispute triggered.

"It's Mommy," Elyse Gazewitz, the monkey's owner, said softly yesterday at the zoo where he has been kept for the past seven months. "You're going home."

The monkey squealed and shrieked when Gazewitz tried to embrace him as a crowd of onlookers and photographers looked on.

The reunion came after a Montgomery County judge ruled that officials should have released the monkey months ago and should now reimburse Gazewitz for much of the cost of boarding him in the interim.

"I never met Armani," Circuit Court Judge Terrence J. McGann said yesterday in court shortly before announcing his decision. "But I did get a card from him. He's quite a good writer. Nice penmanship. I was hoping he might be here today. He would be in his little tux, and he'd be well-behaved. But he's not."

More seriously, the judge provided the following explanation for his ruling:

County animal services officers seized Armani in May and charged Gazewitz with violating state law and county code provisions prohibiting people from keeping wild and dangerous animals as pets.

In June, Gazewitz appeared before the county's Animal Matters Hearing Board to appeal Armani's seizure. The board found that the four-pound monkey was not dangerous but that the seizure was lawful because officers had probable cause to suspect that Gazewitz had violated state law.

McGann said yesterday that the animal hearing board should not have considered Gazewitz's appeal until the criminal case was resolved.

In July, the Montgomery County prosecutor dropped the sole criminal charge filed in the case. Once that charge was dismissed, McGann said, "the county lost its mooring for the seizure."

Montgomery police said the monkey needed to remain confined at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo until civil citations were resolved. Had the county prevailed, Assistant County Attorney William A. Snoddy said, Armani would have been sent to a facility for wild animals in Florida.

Gazewitz has been paying roughly $1,300 a month for Armani's "room and board" at Catoctin -- an amount McGann called "exorbitant."

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