The death of Travis the chimp in Connecticut is sensational, in the bad sense of the word, and has been unfortunately overshadowed by the cartoon in the New York Post which obviously referred to his death. But let’s talk about Travis himself. Supposedly living a life of privilege, drinking wine from a stemmed glass (say what?). I guess it’s but a small step from wine to Xanax. But neither wild nor domesticated animals should be given alcohol or unprescribed drugs, nor in any other way treated as if they are human. Not that I haven’t done it. In an emergency, I’ve given a dog Benadryl a couple of times, for pain, until I could get them to the vet. Even that was a bad idea, although it didn’t hurt. But it could have.
We may love animals as if they were human. We may, in some cases, love them more than humans. But they are not human, and it is a tragedy and it borders on abuse to treat them as if they were.
The real story is, this woman, Sandy Herold, should never have had a chimp in her home, even if he had his own bedroom. Chimps are incredibly bright, and they are very social animals. Also, they are aggressive and are fierce hunters in the wild. So no matter how much Ms. Herold “loved” him, she could never replace the companionship of other chimps. She deluded herself if she believed that her “love” for him was returned in kind.
Notice that I put the word love in quotation marks. Ms. Herold reminds me of animal hoarders, who “love” animals so much that they can’t bear to turn one away. The inevitable end to that story is that they end up with more animals than they can afford to care for, and the animals begin to starve. Not being able to bear the thought of an animal dying, they begin to cause dying by a more painful method. The parallel here is that Ms. Herold had only one animal, but an animal she could not control or properly care for, and the attack on her friend was not the first clue. Among the chilling aspects of the story (Ms. Herold stabbing Travis with a butcher knife, for example), is the 911 call, in which she says about Travis attacking her friend that “He’s eating her”. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/02/17/2009-02-17_911_tape_captures_chimpanzee_owners_horr-2.html Well, that’s what they do. He’s a chimp.
Now that I’ve been all self-righteous about it, time for some revelation. In the early ’70’s, I impulsively bought an owl monkey from an exotic pet store (which I’m happy to say, was eventually shut down). I named him Spock. They sort of have Spockish ears.
No matter how fierce they may look, they are tiny things…weighing between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds. I bought monkey food for him, which he wouldn’t eat. The only thing he would eat was fruit cocktail, except for the cherries. He lived in a large cage in my bedroom. He got sick, and had diarrhea. I took him to the vet. This was the first clue I had that maybe I had done a bad thing–the vet yelled at me about having an exotic pet. I had to give Spock medicine from an eyedropper, and he hated it. I would have to trick him. I had two eyedroppers—one with milk, and one with the medicine. He loved the milk (but he never knew what he was getting…), so I would put my hand around his tiny head to force open his jaws, and give him a dropperful of milk. Then he would keep his tiny mouth open and I would blindside him with the medicine.
He got better, but still refused to eat what he needed. I “loved” Spock, but I realized he was going to die if I kept him. So I donated him to the zoo.
As it turned out, the zoo didn’t know any more about owl monkeys than I did. That first winter, they put him out on what they called “Monkey Island”, an artificial island with an artificial moat around it, with all the other monkeys. It’s amazing that he survived and that the other monkeys didn’t eat him. He did survive, but his tail froze and they had to amputate most of it.
But there is a happy ending here. Spock turned out to be one of the only male owl monkeys in captivity, and he was sold to the Chicago zoo for breeding purposes. I was sad, because I could no longer visit him, but happy for him that he got to live out his days as a stud. These days, owl monkeys are an endangered species. Hopefully, not for a lack of trying by Spock.
The moral of the story is that I learned my lesson. I don’t want to “love” an animal to death. I did have one more encounter with an exotic pet, which was more in the nature of a rescue, but that’s food for another post. I think Sandy Herold is in for some hard times ahead, and honestly, I don’t have much sympathy for her.