Monkey's escape in Missouri leads to investigation

SPRINGFIELD | A southwest Missouri man's allegations that his neighbor's escaped monkey lunged at him has officials investigating the animal's owner for possible zoning violations.

The case could be the first test of a Greene County ordinance that limits the number of exotic animals that can be kept on a single piece of property.

Sam Nigliazzo said he's concerned his wife or grandchildren could be attacked if the monkey escapes again. It showed up outside his home near Brighton, north of Springfield, last week.

"When I knocked on the window, he lunged at me and the window," Nigliazzo told the Springfield News-Leader. "They're nasty critters."

He called the Greene County sheriff about the child-size rhesus macaque and later complained to county planning and zoning officials. That sparked an investigation into whether monkey owner Debby Rose is following zoning rules and has the proper permits.

Rose runs an animal rescue farm with her family. She gained attention in 2006 when local health officials banned her from taking another one of her monkeys into restaurants and grocery stores.

Rose has claimed that monkey, a bonnet macaque, helps her cope with a social anxiety disorder. She said has that she considers the pet to be a service animal protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

She sued the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Wal-Mart and Cox Health Systems last year, claiming they discriminated against her and her monkey. Health officials had sent letters to restaurants and grocery stores advising them not to let Rose in with the animal.

Rose also alleged that she was denied access to Cox Health Systems facilities.

The lawsuit, which has been transferred to federal court, is ongoing.

In the latest case involving Rose, Greene County sheriff's deputies say they counted 28 monkeys at her family's farm last week and all were properly confined and appeared to have received suitable care. The Roses say only 24 of the animals are permanent residents.

The Roses were not ticketed for the monkey escaping. They say they have improved their monkey facilities to prevent another escape.

"We got right on that," said T.J. Rose, the oldest of Debby Rose's adult sons and one of the animal rescue farm's main operators.

He said the family would be providing officials with records showing the monkeys have been vaccinated and tested for various diseases.

Debby Rose said she gave inspectors a copy of the farm's nonprofit license, which she thinks might make some permits unnecessary.

"We're willing to do whatever it takes," she said.

County officials are hoping their investigation will at least clear up some legal issues concerning exotic animal ownership.

"When the dust settles on this case, we'll know what we can or can't do," said Greene County Associate Commissioner Harold Bengsch. "There have been other instances where there have been one or two exotic animals, but this is on a scale that's different from anything I'm aware that we have encountered before."

State law requires exotic animal owners to register the pets with local law enforcement. The law states that animal refuges are exempt from that requirement if they are "properly maintained."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates and inspects some exotic animal owners, but the Rose farm doesn't appear to fall under such oversight.

Greene County's ordinance outlining the number of animals allowed on a property includes a provision about permits for exotic animals. Owners are to obtain a home-occupation permit from the county. Monkeys are specifically mentioned in the provision.

Those keeping more than two of the animals on a single property must have a conditional-use permit. A "grandfathering" clause could exempt at least some of the Roses' animals.