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Md. woman, her monkey battle legal jungle

Animal held as illegal resident

Elyse Gazewitz displayed a photo of her 4-pound capuchin monkey, Armani, who was impounded by local authorities. (BILL O'LEARY/WASHINGTON POST)

WASHINGTON -- For Elyse Gazewitz, Armani was like any other baby, right down to his daily bottle, red stroller, and Huggies diapers -- except for the hole cut out for his tail.

The 4-pound, 18-inch capuchin monkey, who Gazewitz said is 1 year old, loved the tire swings, toys, and small hammock in his $4,000 room, which she had built onto her suburban Rockville, Md., home.

They enjoyed their morning routine: filing their nails, dressing -- the monkey wore OshKosh B'Gosh and other infant brands -- and watching the "Today" show.

When she left the room, Gazewitz said, Armani would scream, curl into a ball, and clutch his favorite stuffed dog until she returned.

"He just couldn't stand being away from me," Gazewitz, 42, said this week, breaking into tears. "He loved me."

Now, Armani is in the custody of the Montgomery County Division of Animal Control and Humane Treatment, suspected of being an illegal resident under Maryland's wild animal law. Animal control officers seized him last week and cited Gazewitz with six civil violations. Two citations dealt with Armani's status and what animal control officers say was Gazewitz's interference when they came to her home to take him away.

She was also accused of failing to supply proof that she had licensed and properly vaccinated her two dogs. Gazewitz said she was handcuffed and held at the local police station for an hour before being released.

Gazewitz's lawyer said her client has appealed the $1,800 in fines, but was to pay $1,344 more yesterday to ensure that she maintains ownership of Armani -- and that he will not be euthanized -- while the appeal is pending. The $1,344 will cover boarding costs at a zoo in Thurmont, said the lawyer, Anne Benaroya.

"There is no issue of neglect or abuse," Benaroya said of the citations. "It's simply possession of a monkey."

Montgomery's animal control division is part of the police department. Police spokeswoman Blanca Kling said that the division's leader, Captain Harold Allen, declined to comment because it is "an ongoing investigation."

Kling supplied 12 pages of county and state laws about dangerous animals and threats to public health. A state law that took effect Oct. 1 forbids importing, selling, breeding, or possessing a "nonhuman primate," including monkeys. The law also prohibits skunks, raccoons, bears, alligators, certain poisonous snakes, and non domestic cats and dogs.

In an interview last week, WRC-TV quoted Allen as saying that animals owned before May 31, 2006 , are exempt from the law . "We have documentation that shows that [Armani] wasn't even born until December 2006," he added.

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