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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dispaches From The Planet of the Apes....
Posted by Melina | 3:39 PM

Back when my granddad bought this place, North Stamford was considered the backwoods, with dirt roads and a pretty sparse population. Gentrification has pushed out alot of the original old timers but we still have our share of oddballs. Now, I may be one myself, in the new order, because I keep chickens, but that's not the kind of thing that would rate as all that odd up here in the detritus of family places sitting on overgrown prime land and the secrets therein. Its not unusual for specially licensed professionals to keep exotic animals in their homes, but its a little unusual that a troublesome 200 lb Chimp was allowed to remain in what had become a populated residential area.

Travis the chimp was not the cute little guy in the Old Navy commercials anymore. He was not that little guy in diapers driving around town in the company truck... and Sandra Herold was not an animal handler by any stretch. Herold is an eccentric who had managed to grandfather in the ability to keep this wild and increasingly unmanageable animal under wraps and perhaps illegally in her residence. Travis was a disaster waiting to happen, and with his ability to get out of cars, stop traffic, drive cars himself, not to mention his threatening actions, its a wonder that only one person was so severely injured. When Travis stopped downtown traffic for 2 hours last year, it was a warning that things were out of hand. If what happened here on Tuesday had happened downtown, there could have been a much higher death toll.

Whatever was going on with Travis on Tuesday morning that caused Herold to call her friend Charla Nash to help her get the animal inside, is unclear. Sandra Herold has already given him an unprescribed dose of Xanax in tea to try to calm him and get him into the house, (Xanax has not been tested on Chimpanzees.) What is clear, from the reports of the first responders, is that Nash got out of her car with a doll for Travis and he attacked. As those first responders pulled up the drive, Travis appeared with blood dripping from his mouth and down his chest. He raised his arms like a gorilla, running back and forth between threatening the approaching rescuers and what looked like a crumpled mannequin on the lawn, but was actually Nash, continuing to chew her face some more as if she was his kill and they were threatening it.

She didn't even look like an actual person because she basically had no face, no scalp....The responders retreated, backing their truck away, because they knew that Travis could tear the door off their truck and there was no way for them to get to Nash until police sharp shooters arrived. When police approached the scene, Travis partially tore the door off their cruiser, causing an officer to begin shooting him with his .45. It took 5 shots to get Travis to retreat into his house, where he fell to the floor and died. Rescue workers were able to get Nash to the hospital where she remains in critical condition, but those on the scene can't imagine how she can live through the injuries she sustained. Bits of her were left on the lawn there along with the doll she brought to try to calm him.

This morning Sandra Herold was all over the news, giving interviews telling us that Travis looked up to her as if to say "Mom, what did you do?" What did she do? Well, that's an interesting question. She certainly didn't keep Travis in a proper enclosure. She certainly didn't think of her neighbor's safety, including the many young mothers in this neighborhood pushing baby carriages along the roads. She also didn't seem to be at the hospital outside of her "best friend's" room, waiting for word on her condition. Perhaps she has been told to stay away, but honestly, to use this time to make excuses for a wild animal behaving the way that many, many mature male chimpanzees behave, is insane.

Its not that Herold is considered to be a particularly sane person around here, anyway. Maybe she is just negligent and the city is to blame, but I for one, would like some answers. I have a teen who is outside quite a bit, and taking walks on these same roads with his friends, and I'd like to know that any dangerous animals are kept responsibly and that they are visited by the inspector from time to time. This monkey was allowed to drive around in a company truck when he was young, but by the time he has grown to over 200 lbs and was being kept by a disheveled woman (who was alone after having lost her husband,) living in a chaotic house, I would like to know that someone has a handle on things.

Back when I lived in Montana, I met a guy, Doug Seus, who raised and trained Bart the Bear, of The Bear fame (among other movies.) Yes, he was a cuddly animal, and the trainers that worked with him all the time could hug him and cuddle with him like he was a puppy. But he was also, like the many other wild animals that Doug raised and trained for show business, a wild animal. There were always handlers present, and one of my roommates back then had actually been a handler for Doug when Bart was a baby, (that's how I met him,) because one person couldn't possibly keep up with the training at all times. One person cant possibly keep up with the care and training of a wild animal! Older Chimpanzees become erratic

According to the Jane Goodall Institute:

Aggression is a natural aspect of chimpanzee behavior and it is not uncommon for chimps to bite each other in the wild. Even the best cared for chimpanzee innately misses the companionship of other chimpanzees and may act aggressively towards owners. However much a misguided chimp owner continues to love his or her "child," the chimpanzee will be too dangerous to keep as part of the family. Many owners, to delay the inevitable day that the chimp will have to be removed from the house, will pull the chimp's teeth, put on shock collars — even remove thumbs in the mistaken notion that this will make it impossible for the chimp to climb the drapes.

This morning on the Today Show a couple was interviewed who survived a Chimpanzee attack. This is a responsible couple who wished dearly that they could have kept their Chimp, but who put him in a facility when he got older. They were attacked at the facility while visiting by other chimps who had gotten loose. As kind as they are about Chimps in general, and as gracious as they are in saying that they sorely wish they could have one living with them so as to study it, the injuries speak for themselves. This guy isn't even done with the surgeries and care he needs. He threw himself in front of his wife, apparently and saved her.

Heaven knows that I am an animal person who has been known to have a menagerie of pets that some people wouldn't want. The city was quick to sue me for a noise complaint from a disgruntled neighbor who was trying to sell his house and who had left by the time we went to trial. I won the suit, but had remedied the temporary problem, (too many roosters here from a clutch of eggs,) much earlier, anyway. Still the machinery of the process for noise complaints went into action, and once it was moving, lets just say that I became very familiar with the health department and the courts (and all is fine with my set up, thank-you-very-much.) How is it possible that a city like Stamford could be so remiss in protecting its citizens, even after incidents pointed to the out of control nature of the situation?

Charla Nash lost her face, her hands, and maybe her life. Mothers pushing baby carriages in neighborhoods of million dollar houses who used to worry about the odd frightened coyote up here, have to now worry about what else is behind those overgrown patches here and there. I'd like to know what Mayor Malloy intends to do to assure us that animal control and the department of health has permits and knowledge of all exotics residing in this quickly growing area before we have another tragedy.

I skipped over the part where the state had allowed Travis to be grandfathered in after permitting laws for exotic pets were passed in 2004. This family had Travis since 1994, which was all the more reason for a permit to be required in 2004, considering what is basic common knowledge about Chimpanzees. In other words, you don't need a PhD in primate psychology to know that they become aggressive. It might have been helpful if some animal regulating body was overseeing this thing. But with the apparent misunderstanding of the serious dangers to the public of keeping primates in substandard housing, I don't know if it would have made a difference.

The law enacted in 2004 exempted primates weighing less than 50 lbs, (as if a 50 lb monkey can't do some serious damage,) and those owned previously. Governor Rell now says that she is willing to consider an all out ban on owning primates as pets, but what seems to have fallen between the cracks here is that the primates that need looking at are the older ones that have been owned for a long time. Granted, no individual has applied for a large primate permit in the state since the law passed in 2004, but that doesn't mean that there aren't pre-existing primates out there that pose a danger. It would serve the entire country for animal control to require some sort of registration of primates, especially large ones. It would also serve to require that owners of these primates be licensed, and required to keep handy, animal tranquilizing darts.

c/p RIP Coco

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Blogger Bob said...
Just by watching TV nature shows one learns the behavior of apes, & even small monkeys, is extremely complex & unpredictable compared to dogs & cats, which have been domesticated for thousands of years. & dogs & cats can unexpectedly revert to feral behavior, as every pet owner knows, or ought to know. As apes, we share subtle & unconscious body language with chimps, & professional handlers & scientists are well aware of that. I feel sorry for Charla, & for Travis - who should have been sent to a sanctuary long ago. I hope Sandra Herold goes to jail.

Blogger Cujo359 said...
This sounded crazy when I saw the headlines about it. A 200 lb. animal is much stronger than a 200 lb. human being. If they're not domesticated they're potentially dangerous, and chimps are smart.

I'm sorry for Charla and the chimp. Don't know what to think about the owner. If she was mentally ill, then I suppose the municipality ought to ask itself why a mentally ill woman was allowed to keep a dangerous creature in her house.

Blogger Cujo359 said...
BTW, reading this page on Xanax is an eye-opener. It's prescribed for both panic disorder and depression. Among its potential side effects are irritability and anxiety. I've written aircraft maintenance manuals that were less complicated than the dosing scheme they're describing.

Even for humans, it's bound to be dangerous unless it's being done by medical professionals.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I hadn't realized (but probably should have) that the chimp in question had already been a problem in the community. I haven't actively sought out any reporting or commentary on this incident, but this is still probably the best thing written on it. Thanks.

Blogger Melina said...
Today, Herold backpedaled furiously via a friend serving as spokesperson, regarding the xanax.
Apparently a family member had left it there, and though she had put pills in the tea, they were not fully dissolved after the monkey drank it...and were evident on the bottom of the cup. Is this a joke?
There is an autopsy going on at UConn, so we will know soon enough how much went into his monkey system. But the attitude of someone (who is a kook anyway and who clearly couldn't handle the animal alone)that it doesn't count because the pills didn't dissolve, shouldnt by any means make her any the less liable for this.
She would use a family member's drugs rather than call the police or animal control. She hadn't ever given him this drug before and she was concerned enough that she used it. At what point was she going to ask for help, besides from her girlfriend (who brought a red Elmo doll, as she had brought toys to him all the time, and reportedly held it in front of her face as she got out of the car, possibly causing the reaction....who knows? he was not a bull!)?
The local paper today had an editor's editorial calling for the banning of ALL exotics including lizards and...well, little Joey's pet turtle. This is what I view as NOT helpful.
The local government has to ask itself why this was allowed to go on in a residential neighborhood. It doesn't mean take all pets from everybody, but I sure as hell want to know what other large wild animals out of cages are around the neighborhood while my son practices his martial arts on the lawn, and young moms push baby carriages by. There are hundreds of walkers and bikers here...not to mention drivers...he could pull a car door off.

The decision to not require existing exotics over 50 lbs to be permitted when the law passed in 2004 was terribly flawed. A 50 lb exotic...a snake or a monkey...can do plenty of damage. Just permit them and require proof of proper care and enclosures for the protection of the animals and the rest of us. Animals that are known to become aggressive with age should be checked regularly as they get older. If its a problem, charge fees to cover it.

They moved Charla Nash today to the first American Clinic to do a face transplant. I hope that they can do something for her. Shes in very bad shape but they stabilized her vitals enough to move her.
What a nightmare!

Thanks for reading...I'm gonna look into a follow-up if I can get anything else, but its all pretty much out there...and the press is camped at Herold's house. She has, thankfully, stopped talking. Maybe tomorrow Ill take a spin up there and see whats going on. Its been snowing and raining so at least the blood will wash away.

Its a political story now as our bold state and local leaders pass the buck. Beyond that its up to the DA to figure out if a crime has been committed and if so, by who.

Blogger Cujo359 said...
Just permit them and require proof of proper care and enclosures for the protection of the animals and the rest of us.

This all sounds sensible to me. Outright bans will probably just make people try to hide these animals, anyway. Give them a way to keep them around, provided they can. Some people shouldn't have goldfish, and some are probably able to handle at least some wild creatures safely.

Blogger Melina said...
unfortunately, alot of people think that any sort of regulation (in general) implies over involvement by government in our every day lives.
I think its been clearly established on many levels that society needs regulation to function.
The same ultra rich people who only want tax cuts don't seem to realize that we don't have enough animal control officers, police, ambulance coverage, and that our fire coverage is severely underfunded and crippled by a fight between the union firefighters downtown and the lifetime paid volunteers up here.
I suppose it will take a worse tragedy than the Travis thing to shake people into reality.

Its a little too "socialist" for alot of people up here, the new rich and the old timers, to properly protect ourselves and our neighbors.
I guess that no one trusts the government enough to do their job without rendition & torture or taking it all in taxes and spending it on bureaucracy. We have had so much corruption in CT, not to mention nationally, that I understand it. But to take an anarchist's or survivalist's view of it is not the only answer.

Though...I can somehow see the attraction to moving somewhere in furthest VT or Maine and never dealing with this crap again....I guess, until your neighbor's crazy animal kills your kid....

Blogger Leatherwing said...
Do you think it's possible that the chimp saw a red Elmo doll and thought the doll had been killed? Travis was already agitated, so there's little way to know what his thought processes were.

Herold should definitely be held responsible, but so should the area governments that knew the animal was out of control (after the 2 hour traffic incident).