White-faced Capuchin Monkey

EXEMPT? — Haywood County commissioners will hear arguments on whether a Capuchin monkey, such as the one shown above, should be exempt from the county’s dangerous animal ordinance. White-faced Capuchin Monkey

Arguments for and against keeping capuchin monkeys as pets were heard by the county commissioners on June 15. The board’s next step is to decide whether it wants to amend a county ordinance banning nonhuman primates from residing as pets in Haywood.

“Basically, this ordinance disallows any monkey or primate,” said George Hyler, an attorney representing the resident petitioning for her monkey’s return after it was seized by animal control in early May. “When I looked at that, I thought this was completely over broad, and something that could be attacked in the courts.”

Hyler’s proposed change to county rules against keeping inherently dangerous animals, including all nonhuman primates, is to exempt capuchin monkeys from the list. Capuchin monkeys grow to only about a foot tall and weigh no more than 10 pounds, making them fairly harmless, Hyler said.

“They like people, they get along with people,” Hyler said. “I don’t think there’s any reason they would qualify as an exotic or dangerous animal, or need to be regulated.”

Hyler said the petitioner, Cynthia Gregory, did not know her young capuchin monkey was illegal in Haywood County when she bought it from a licensed seller in Florida some eight months ago, because most states, and even most counties in North Carolina do not have a statute like Haywood’s.

Evelyn Coltman said she worked in the 1990s to help draft the county’s animal services ordinances, including the inherently dangerous animals section.

“The opinion of experts regarding keeping wild animals as pets or service animals has not changed since that time,” Coltman said.

Monkeys sold as pets are usually taken from their mothers just after birth, Coltman said. Many are harmed or killed in the process, and lifelong behavior problems are created as a result. Some of the more destructive tendencies do not arise until the primate reaches maturity, Coltman said.

Two others spoke in favor of capuchin monkeys as friendly and harmless pets, both citing personal experience.

In a written recommendation to the board of commissioners, Haywood County Animal Services Director Howard Martin said he was opposed to the proposed ordinance amendment.

In addition to nonhuman primates, other animals considered inherently dangerous in Haywood County are all felines — other than domestic house cats — bears, wolves, coyotes and venomous or constricting reptiles.

Following the hearing, no comment was made by the county commissioners. Whether capuchin monkeys are excepted from the inherently dangerous animals ordinance will likely be decided at the next board meeting, 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 20.

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