Panel backs decision to remove pet monkey

Arundel animal control took macaque from couple after attacks on people

July 15, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A pet monkey accused of biting or scratching more than a half-dozen people over two years will have to remain at the Howard County refuge where it has been since spring.

After hearing seven hours of testimony yesterday, the Anne Arundel County Animal Control Commission, a seven-member administrative review panel, decided that animal control officers were right to take Jamie, a 2-year-old Bonnett macaque, from owners Steven and Kimberly Ritterspach of Glen Burnie after the animal was involved in a barroom brawl in April.

The six commission members at yesterday's hearing said animal control administrator Tahira Shane Thomas will have to decide where the monkey will be placed permanently and whether the owners will be allowed to visit.

The Ritterspachs, who have come to regard the monkey as the child they could not have, said they planned to appeal.

"I'm not giving up at this point," said Steven Ritterspach, 45, owner of a used-car dealership. "We've spent enough now for three monkeys. But that's not what this is about -- it's about the bond that was between us."

Ritterspach said the couple had spent $13,000 in lawyer fees to try to get Jamie back.

He said that during the daylong hearing, he tried to assure the panel with a tearful plea that he would not allow Jamie to be a danger again.

"Jamie wasn't at fault in any of this. It was us," he said. Since then, "we talked about keeping Jamie confined to the home. He would have to be ours, and that's it, and not be allowed to be shared with anybody else."

Members of the commission indicated that the family might get another chance at caring for the animal by talking to Thomas and persuading her to change her mind, but Thomas said: "That's not going to be one of my considerations. I do not feel that returning the monkey is the appropriate thing to do for public safety."

Thomas said she would talk with the manager of the primate center in Howard County, to see if the animal could stay there permanently.

Animal control took custody of Jamie after the monkey bit a woman in the lip at the Speak-Easy-Inn in Glen Burnie, touching off a brawl in which two more people were attacked, according to police records. The agency had on file instances of four people who had been bitten or scratched by the 9-pound animal.

Before the April 2 melee, animal control officials had labeled Jamie dangerous and prohibited the Ritterspachs from taking it out in public. Officers had fined Steven Ritterspach twice because he had taken the animal out in public.

After the fight, Thomas decided to take the monkey from the couple and fine them again, bringing their total penalty to $850. They have not paid the fines, officials said.

Eleven people have reported having been bitten or scratched by the animal, although four of those reports have not been confirmed, Thomas said.

If the Ritterspachs appeal the decision, the case would be heard before the county board of appeals.

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