Can a Howard woman keep a bunch of monkeys in her house?

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 6:01 PM

Jamie, the so-called barroom-brawling monkey of Glen Burnie, seems pretty mellow now. As he munches popcorn in his enclosure at Frisky's Wildlife & Primate Sanctuary in Howard County there's no sign of the agitated bonnet macaque who made headlines in 1999.

Back then, Jamie used to be taken all sorts of places by his owner, a used car dealer who would often encourage people to touch his monkey. When Jamie scratched a waitress at the Speak Easy Inn in Glen Burnie, all hell broke loose, with customers throwing punches left and right. Animal control confiscated Jamie and placed him at Frisky's, a refuge in Woodstock run by Colleen Layton-Robbins. He's been there ever since.

"Jamie doesn't like when people laugh at him," reads the little bio of the monkey on the Frisky's Web site.

No one does, Jamie. No one does.

Every animal at Frisky's has a story. "Izzy was the product of a lesbian divorce," Colleen says of a white-faced capuchin monkey named Isadora. Oogie, another capuchin, used to belong to a dentist. That was until the dentist's wife said, "That monkey's not going to ruin another Christmas." Kiko, a rhesus macaque, was given up by his human family in Iowa after he started biting people. His former owner visits Frisky's annually, sleeping on a cot across from Kiko's cage.

Colleen has taken in primates from across the country. She has 23 in her house and in enclosures across her three-acre property.

It's not just monkeys. There's a bald eagle that's recuperating after someone shot it. ("He was a pile of wet feathers when he came in," Colleen says.) In the rabbit room are a clutch of baby bunnies, rescued from a hoarding situation. There are pygmy goats, minks, chinchilla, parrots, squirrels, all tended by Colleen and an army of volunteers.

Frisky's doesn't happen to have any alligators, but the toothy reptiles come through the door periodically, usually confiscated during drug busts. "They're small alligators, but they're alligators," says Colleen, 56. "Talk about some spunky attitude."

When Colleen moved here 20 years ago, she was pretty much surrounded by farmland. "They said they weren't going to develop," she says. Today, parts of the new Preserve at Waverly Glen subdivision back up to Frisky's. Peer over the fence near the coatimundis (a sort of South American raccoon) and you can look into the back yards of $1 million homes.

And on the other side of Frisky's live Julianne and Richard Wyckoff. They've been waging a battle against Colleen since they moved in12 years ago. Julianne says that when she and her husband bought their house, they didn't know how diverse the wildlife in and around their neighbor's home was. "I thought she was a housewife who had some animals, some cats and llamas," Julianne says.

Monkeys, say the Wyckoffs, especially macaques, are prone to herpes B, a disease that can be fatal in humans. "I have a daughter who wants to be out roller skating and bike riding," Julianne said. "I let her do that, but I worry all the time. I say, 'If you see anything, you run to the house.' "

Colleen says the animals are healthy. Her enclosures are double-locked, and 27 closed-circuit TV cameras are trained on the property. Besides, she says, the combined weight of all her monkeys is just 263 pounds, hardly a threat.

The fight over Frisky's has dragged on in zoning hearings and courtrooms and even reached Maryland's highest court - which sent it back to the county. Years ago Colleen was successful in her request for a zoning exception allowing her property to be a sanctuary for squirrels, bunnies, goats, hawks and the like. The sticking point is the exotic animals. There's a hearing Thursday before the county's Board of Appeals and another March 24. At issue is whether she can keep the monkeys.

"Really, they don't belong on this property," Julianne says. "Zoning laws are there for a reason."

Colleen says she thinks she's there for a reason, too: to care for animals that haven't gotten a fair shake. "I'm not the problem," Colleen says. "I'm the solution." The solution to abandoned, unwanted or neglected animals.

Jamie, the barroom-brawling monkey of Glen Burnie, is content to sit this fight out. As with pretty much everything else in his life, the humans will decide what happens next.

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