In memory of a special little boy, who wanted to educate the world...and died trying.
"We love you" Mommy and Daddy
Wyatt 1999 - 2003
The following story is shared by Wyatt's mother in the hope that it might prevent a similar tragedy. It is Wyatt's story, word for word as it was presented to me. It serves as a dire warning to protect your precious companion from strangers and a frightening tale of how quickly something can go wrong. If knowing Wyatt's story can save just one other precious monkey, then his senseless death will not have been in vain. Instead, he will have sacrificed his life to protect others. Goodbye sweet boy. Know that you will never be forgotten; that your sacrifice is recognized....and that you were loved by more people than you can imagine.
My name is Debbie Barnett and my husband is Dr. Craig Barnett. I am a licensed animal health technician and my husband is a veterinarian.
About 8 yrs ago we decided to share our lives with non-human primates. Our first monkey was "Dori", a Japanese Snow Macaque. Who came to us as at the age of 6 months old, she was a screaming 3-pound ball of fur and fear. Dori had been at a petting zoo in FL. I had studied primates for three years prior to acquiring Dori. Honestly nothing prepared us for the journey we were about to begin with Dori, and our other non-human primates in our lives.
It took us about 30 days to gain the trust of Dori and be able to interact with her by touching and grooming her. When that trust bond was formed Dori became a part of me, literally. She slept with us, ate with us, was at work with me. I had become her surrogate mother. As time went on we learned more and more information gathered from a wonderful group called the Simian Society of America. We found that there were other people out there with vast experience with non-human primates in captivity. Craig and I made it a point to learn Dori's Facial expressions and vocalizations to communicate with her, and her with us. As time went on Dori became such a strong part of our family she was like our daughter.
When Dori was two years old we received a call from a person locally with a Japanese Snow macaque female that was three years old, and they could not care for her anymore. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation out regarding keeping monkeys as pets. Monkeys kept in captivity are very time consuming and more like having small children that need supervision for 30- 40 years. Non-human primates also become bored easily, so they need plenty of enrichment to occupy their time. In the wild they would spend endless hours foraging for food and interacting with one another. We felt that Dori needed other monkey companionship and interaction. We decided to take this female into our home and introduce them. We named this little shy gir,l Liddy. Over time her and Dori became close and would groom each other and communicate together.
When I first started studying non-human primates in captivity I had studied mostly about the capuchin monkeys. They fascinated me with their intelligence. Because of that intelligence they were being used in captivity to assist quadriplegic and paraplegic humans.
In the spring of 1999 I received a call that a female white-faced capuchin female had delivered a small male baby and was letting him cling to her, but was agitated and refused to let him nurse. In monkeys, mothering is a learned behavior and as with humans this sometimes is not learned well enough for the monkey mother to care for her young. The breeder felt it was best to intercede and remove this baby from his birth mother for his chance of survival.
We received the call at about 4:30pm and were asked if we were capable of taking him and caring for him. This was a commitment of feeding this little monkey boy every 2 hours around the clock. He weighed 4 ounces and was this tiny very fragile little monkey boy.
After deciding to make the commitment to try and raise this little monkey boy, our lives were filled with awe and wonder at how something so small could thrive and develop just like a human baby. He learned to focus on our faces as we talked to him, and eventually learned to crawl and explore. We named him Wyatt, which means little man. The capuchins being new world monkeys and living primarily in the canopies of the rain forest, are much different from the macaques that are ground dwelling monkeys, and have to mature more rapidly to survive.
At the time we got Wyatt, my nephew Shane was living with us and working and going to college. Shane was taking a zoology course at a community college and had mentioned to his teacher Dr. David Siebel that he lived with his Aunt and Uncle and non-human primates. Thus my career in trying to share and educate the world about non-human primates in captivity and what it was like to care for them on a daily basis. This relationship between Dr. Siebel and our family grew, so that even after my nephew moved on in his life I continued each semester to go and give educational presentations to his class so they could see and learn to understand non-human primates in captivity like they never had before. Up close and personal.
As time went on and the more I learned about these amazing creatures God had made the more I wanted to share them with the public so they would understand just how amazing they were also and how we needed to protect them in the wild or they were going to slowly disappear and become extinct forever.
In December 2001 the Kansas City Star contacted me and wanted to do an article on me, and our primates. I wanted to expand my program to share with others how wonderful and special these creatures are. That winter I started an educational program called "Monkey Business." At the time I had no idea how much the public would be interested to learn how magnificent these animals are and to see and learn about them up close and personal.
My phone was ringing and I was asked to advertise in a publication called Mother and Child Reunion. With this publication and word of mouth my little program boomed. I was amazed and at the same time thrilled that I was getting to share and do something in my life that had become my passion.
I had been doing programs at churches; schools and other programs when people started asking me to come to their homes to give presentations at family get together, picnics, and birthday parties. I said I would do it with people knowing that it was still an educational presentation, and I would give a talk to educate people on our lives with non-human primates. What a joy it became to meet new people and share our lives with them!
In May 2003 I was asked to do a surprise birthday party for 12 year olds, which is a wonderful age because they are old enough to know how to sit still and listen to the importance of these animals in the wild and how fast they are dwindling.
At this party Wyatt was in his element! He loved boys and liked playing and wrestling with them as any little 4 year old all boy monkey would like to do. As one of the boys had a hold of Wyatt's leash he jumped to a trellis off of the patio and the boys started to laugh, when they did this Wyatt became frightened at the sudden burst of laughter and jumped back to the boy who was holding his leash. Wyatt scratched the boy under the arm. I apologized to him and told him to wash it with antibacterial soap and it would be fine.
Later that day or the next morning, we were told that the mother of the boy at the party that was scratched became concerned about the wound and called the boys pediatrician who recommended she take the boy to Children's Mercy to have it examined. From there the wound was described as a bite wound not a scratch wound according to the medical doctor, even though I had seen the whole incident from less than 2 feet away. From there the case was reported to the Johnson county health department.
I was contacted the next day by some one who did not identify themselves they only that they were calling from Johnson county health department and we owned a capuchin monkey that had bitten a child and we were to decapitate him and send his brain in for testing. At the time the person stated that the bite had happened that morning. Knowing that I had not been to any programs in the last 24 hours I told the person they must be mistaken. The unidentified caller told me to call Dr. Gail Hanson at the State Animal Health Department. My husband, was not in the office at the time and so I figured we would call her on Monday and ask what we needed to do other than what we had requested since we knew Wyatt had never been exposed to Rabies.
After that phone call came a phone call from the Miami County Sheriff's Department asking if they could come by and speak with us regarding our monkey biting a child. I explained to the dispatcher that would be fine, but I knew nothing about a bite case, our monkey had scratched a child a few days before at a program but the parents when I spoke with the father were fine and not overly concerned. I faxed a copy of Wyatt's rabies vaccination history to the father and heard nothing more. Deputy Bob Ward came to see how we housed our primates, the environment they were in and if there was any potential for exposure and to see what the monkeys personalities were like. Wyatt the cheerful little boy that he was greeted Deputy Ward with his smiley little chatter and hugged his arm. Deputy Ward assured me there should not be a problem because even in his outside play area no animal could even get to him, and we only left him out when we could supervise him. He agreed there would be no problem with quarantining him in our home due to the care a non-human primate requires in captivity. And he took a copy of Wyatt's records and a copy of our USDA papers.
That Monday Craig called Dr. Gail Hanson in Topeka at the Animal Health Department. Dr. Hanson was very irritated with Dr. Barnett's call and stated that, she thought the monkey had already been killed and its head sent in. Dr. Barnett tried to talk to her in a professional, scientific manner colleague to colleague to see if we could just quarantine Wyatt as we had been doing for the remainder of the few days left. She said absolutely not, she read an excerpt of the Kansas state laws regarding rabies cases. In this law it states nothing about non-human primates in captivity so Dr. Hanson said they classify them as a wild animal. Dr. Barnett assured her that Wyatt had been raised in our home from a day old and had worn diapers and treated like a human primate child and was never outside unsupervised so there was no potential even of exposure. And so he could not be classified as a wild animal, he had been born to a captive, closed colony of capuchins and had never been out of our site. Dr. Hanson argued with Dr. Barnett and said the law was the law.
The following day I received a call from a Dr. Holscher with the Miami County Health Department saying that he had spoke in detail with a Primatologist and a DVM that specialized in primates and could come to know conclusion that Wyatt would be a potential carrier of Rabies, and he would turn that information over to Miami County Sheriffs Department. An hour and a half later Deputy Ward was at our door with an administrative order from Dr. Holscher the very doctor I had just spoken with an hour before saying we were considered a flight risk and that we would have to turn Wyatt over to them for quarantine. In an hours time from that, we were told we needed to immediately turn Wyatt over now for immediate destruction for his brain tissue to be tested for Rabies. I asked Deputy Ward what would happen if we did not turn Wyatt over; he stated that we would be charged with a criminal offense of child endangerment, which was a felony. Craig and I knowing this decided to go ahead and do that versus turning Wyatt over to the authorities. Knowing in our hearts and in our minds that he had no potential for rabies and that it would be inhumane to destroy him. Then we were told if we did not surrender Wyatt that the authorities would come and confiscate all our other monkeys and have them destroyed also. What a horrifying thought to have any of our non-human primate children destroyed. Craig made several phone calls to attorneys and other people who would be able to stop this. The SSA of America tried to make several phone calls to stop the action that was taking place. Then Deputy Ward received a phone call and he stated that we had 30 minutes to turn Wyatt over or they would come and destroy all of our non-human primates. Craig and I tearfully discussed our dilemma that we had been forced into. I told Craig that I could not turn Wyatt over to them without euthanizing him first, otherwise he would be handled improperly and be terrified and not understand why people were hurting him. He had never been handling roughly or mistreated in his little, short 4-year life and trusted everyone and would be totally confused.
At 10:09 pm we were forced to destroy Wyatt to save our other 5 monkeys. They took Wyatt's sweet, lifeless little body from me and sent it to KSU to have his brain tested for Rabies.
Two days later his test came back negative for rabies, as we had known it would due to the fact that he was a captive raised capuchin with no potential exposure to rabies.
If you have general questions or need details about any of our products, or if you just need to "monkey" talk, please contact me at (253) 862-0432 or email me at LindaLawrence@aol.com If I'm unable to answer your questions, I'll do my best to direct you to someone who can.