The Washington Post
Owner Loses First Ruling Over Fate of Pet Monkey
Armani Is Too Young to Be Legal, Board Says
Armani, the pet capuchin monkey whose fate has drawn national attention, won’t be returning to his Rockville home, at least for now.
His owner has lost the first round of her battle against Montgomery County authorities, who seized Armani last month after determining that Elyse Gazewitz had violated laws against keeping wild animals as pets.
In a six-page opinion issued late Tuesday, the county’s Animal Matters Hearing Board rejected Gazewitz’s claim that she owned Armani in May 2006, the state’s cutoff date for having a pet monkey. Instead, the panel members said they believed veterinary and zoo reports that Armani is 5 months old, too young for Gazewitz to have owned him more than a year ago.
Gazewitz said she will appeal the ruling to Montgomery Circuit Court.
“They don’t care,” Gazewitz said yesterday of the board’s decision. “He’s just a monkey to them. To me, he’s everything. My life is miserable.”
Armani, a four-pound, 18-inch brown and black capuchin, will remain at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Frederick County while the case is pending.
Montgomery police, who oversee the Division of Animal Control and Humane Treatment, said the ruling supports their officers’ actions.
“Our goal from the beginning was to uphold the law, to ensure the community’s safety, and to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of the capuchin monkey,” police said in a statement.
Gazewitz, 42, who refers to Armani as her “baby” and dressed him in Huggies diapers and infant outfits, said he lived with her for a year before officers showed up at her home May 16 to investigate a report that he was being mistreated.
The officers found Armani in good health but seized him because state and county laws designed to protect public health forbid peo- ple to keep monkeys as pets, police said.
The decision by the board, a volunteer panel appointed by the county executive, covered only whether Armani’s seizure was proper. Gazewitz is scheduled for an August hearing in Montgomery District Court on six civil violations amounting to $1,800 in fines.
Gazewitz’s attorney, Anne Benaroya, questioned the timing of the board’s decision one day after Gazewitz filed a lawsuit against the animal services division’s captain protesting Armani’s seizure.
Benaroya said she expects ultimately to take Gazewitz’s case to the Maryland Court of Appeals, arguing that Montgomery authorities improperly seized Armani after confusing state and county wild animal laws.
She said that Gazewitz was not charged under the state’s criminal law and that authorities did not provide her 10 days’ notice required under county law before impounding Armani.
“The county is very confused about the appropriate law in this situation,” Benaroya said.
The hearing board agreed with the county that a 10-day notice was not required in Armani’s case because his mere presence was illegal, not because he was considered dangerous.
Gazewitz, a pet groomer, must continue to pay $1,344 in monthly boarding fees for Armani while any appeal is pending, Benaroya said.
June Bellizzi, the Catoctin zoo’s acting director, said Armani is being held in a quarantined area and is not on public display. She said he watches DVDs of colorful, animated movies such as “Madagascar” with other monkeys and interacts with her and another keeper.
“He’s doing great,” Bellizzi said. “He eats well. He watches movies. He chats.”
Bellizzi said Armani is no longer wearing diapers or infant clothes.
Police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said Armani will not be euthanized. Even if Gazewitz loses her appeals, Baur said, Armani will remain in an animal sanctuary.