Chimp Has Attacked Before, Woman Claims

The chimp that mauled a woman this week had allegedly bit another woman in 1996.

February 19, 2009, 8:44 AM

Feb. 19, 2009 — -- A Connecticut woman said she was attacked in 1996 by the same chimp who mauled a women earlier this week. Leslie Mostel-Paul told the NBC's "Today" show that the chimp, named Travis, had bit her hand and tried to drag her into a car. She said she complained to police and the owner after the incident.

In two weeks authorities will decide whether to press charges against a Stamford, Conn., woman whose 200-pound domesticated chimpanzee mauled a friend.

Though police said Sandra Herold told them that shortly before the attack Monday she'd given the chimp Xanax, because he was agitated, Herold backtracked Wednesday on whether she'd administered the anti-anxiety drug to the animal.

Herold claimed she put the medication in the chimp's tea but the pills never dissolved. Police believe the drug may have contributed to the rampage.

"They were in the bottom. They didn't melt," Herold said.

An emotional Herold went to the morgue Wednesday to say goodbye to the animal she had raised since birth.

"I touched him, and I told him I was sorry. I still love him as much as ever," she said. "I got to touch him and at least try to have some closure."

Doctors said Xanax is often prescribed to animals, including dogs, for anxiety. While it can be very safe, it's also known for causing maniacal behavior in unstable patients.

Herold's close relationship with the chimpanzee and the animal's attack has raised questions about how close is too close for pets and owners.

Herold's longtime friend Sabrina Taylor said the chimpanzee was treated more like a human than a chimp.

"He would have the onesies," Taylor said. "She'd have the harness on him. She'd have the blue one, the pretty red one."

"She would dress him like he was a little child," Taylor added.

But animal behavior expert Nicolas Dodman said chimpanzees are anything but stable.

"To have a wild animal in that sort of situation is a terrible idea," Dodman said.

"Most people with wild animals, they can do quite well for a period of time, but then something suddenly seems to go wrong, " he said. "This particular chimp was 200 pounds. You're dealing with a 200-pound superstrong athlete, and that's potentially a dangerous weapon."

Still some primate owners see their pets as children, calling them monkids.

"Richard helps me. He's an emotional support. He calms me down. He lowers my blood pressure," said Debby Rose who owns a monkey.

The Dangers of Monkeys as Pets

But former monkey owner Angelle Sampey learned that the animals aren't always as lovable as they seem and don't necessarily make great houseguests.

"He bit me everywhere he could bite me. He ripped my elbow open, right across my wrist, on my hand, the back of my knee and it all happened within like three seconds," said Sampey, who wanted a pet that would make her feel better.

In Travis' case, Herold was forced to stab the animal as it attacked 55-year-old Charla Nash.

"I stabbed him, and he looked up at me like, 'Why'd you do that, mom? '" Herold said.

Dramatic 911 tapes reveal the trauma of the situation in which Herold initially believed the animal had killed Nash.

Nash barely survived and lost her nose, eyes and jaw in the brutal incident.

"The patient Charla received extensive facial and bilateral hand injuries which required four teams of surgeons operating," said Dr. Kevin Miller at Stamford Hospital.

Doctors said she is showing signs of improvement but is still fighting for her life.

Richard Farinato of the U.S. Humane Society said it's important to take precautions when dealing with monkeys as pets.

"Every time you touch that animal, take him out on a leash. Take him, hold the monkey in your arms, show him to the kid next door. This is dangerous stuff," he said.

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