Wildlife enthusiast takes a shine to her monkey

Pausing with pets

November 06, 1991|By Ellen Hawks | Ellen Hawks,Evening Sun Staff

NO MATTER what his surrogate mother wants, Gizmo, a 2-year-old Rhesus monkey, has established his own routine.

''I could run a clock by him,'' says Colleen Layton, who adopted the monkey when he was 3 weeks old.

''At 10 every evening, he notifies me that 'we' are going to bed by turning off the TV, even though he loves it, and the lights. If I'm writing he takes my pen.

''I comply. I clean him up, change his diaper -- he won't wear one that is soiled -- and I get his bottle of Similac.

''After a good burp he grabs his teddy bear and we go to bed and he snuggles up. In the morning we have a cereal breakfast and he gets a children's Flintstone vitamin. He also has fruits and vegetables -- no red meats,'' says mother Layton, who operates a small wildlife farm in Howard County where she rehabilitates wildlife orphans. Most of her charges are animals indigenous to the area, including a black bear cub.

Gizmo came to Layton from friends in Cincinnati who owned his mother. The mother had rejected Gizmo. ''She wouldn't feed him and just banged him on the head all the time. So, I drove up and got him. We bonded on the way home and now he's my constant companion,'' says Layton, who went through the proper legal procedure to own him.

''I am licensed to have wildlife by the federal Fish and Wildlife Department, but with Gizmo I had to have a special inspection of home and cage. He has a very large cage, 24-by-12 feet and 8 feet high with a tunnel above ground from the cage to my cabin -- but he seldom uses it,'' she says.

Every Wednesday, Layton, her son Ricky and Gizmo all take karate lessons at the Wozin DoJo Karate School in Laurel.

''Gizmo loves it," she says. "He has a suit to wear, but it took him eight hours to learn how to do a karate bow on command. You know the bow where you put your hands on the top of your thighs and bend forward keeping your eyes on your opponent?''

At her farm, which she calls Frisky's, Layton has 15 raccoons who are also licensed. Most of them are babies of raccoons she brought from Washington State many years ago. ''That was long before we had a rabies crisis here and now I wouldn't let these go because of the rabies scare. My oldest is 13 years old,'' she says.

pTC Layton, whose father is an American Indian and mother is Irish, says she abhors trapping of animals. ''About 30 years ago, when we lived in Washington State, my father trapped raccoons and if there were signs of babies I'd find and save them.

''That was a long time ago and although trapping is so awful, in those days the pelts brought us money, we ate the meat and gave the bones to the dogs. Nothing went to waste. My parents were migrant workers who picked cherries . . . They came to Philadelphia to pick. That's how I came to this area and I brought my raccoon pets with me as well as some skunks and ferrets,'' says Layton who is a widow. Her 21-year-old son, Ricky Shawn Layton, is recuperating from a life-threatening accident that has left him with disability. ''He is making great progress and has a job at the Preston Country Club for pets in Columbia,'' she says.

Gizmo, according to Layton, could live as long as 30 to 50 years and will grow to the size of a 5- or 6-year-old child. Layton dresses him according to the weather, just as she would any child -- Gizmo's temperature is only about one degree above a human's temperature, she says.

Gizmo is taken to a regular physician rather than a veterinarian. ''I take him after hours to a health clinic for his booster shots and health exams," Layton says. "Every disease a man can get so can a monkey. He has all of his inoculations and a perfect health certificate.''

She adds that Gizmo is her constant companion. She takes him ''to the grocery and feed stores, we work outside and I've learned to clean cages, dip the dogs and much more with him under my jacket or on my arm.''

He also goes with her on her job. Layton makes videos for people of household inventories, family histories or with their pets, anything a person may want to keep as a video record.

In their travels, Gizmo is literally tied to her. ''I lock him to me,'' she explains, ''by securing a leash around my waist and his waist. It secures him to me should some unexplained disturbance frighten him.

''Taking him with me is not for attention, he's just bonded to me. I get disturbed over questions such as, 'is that a live monkey and where could I get one?' "

''Very few people should own a monkey," she adds, "and I hate the fact that in many pet shops, the sale of a monkey is pushed without first telling a buyer the other side of raising one. Monkeys are not novelty pets and because of a lack of concern by the seller and lack of knowledge by the buyer, most die within a year of purchase.

''When Gizmo came to me I immediately contacted and registered Gizmo with the Simian Society of America, located in St. Louis, which offers me excellent information and advice I can rely on about raising him.

''Monkeys are a full-time job. They don't belong in cages and they don't like children. Most people do not know their private time is over if they own a monkey. Also that a monkey will bite and may, with time, become very temperamental. I'm hoping the time I'm giving Gizmo will keep him happy and content," says Layton.

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