Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Monkey’s owner pleads guilty but appeals to Circuit Court

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A Rockville woman whose pet monkey was seized by the county has pleaded guilty in District Court to five citations, including illegal possession of a wild animal, but she plans to continue her legal battle to bring the monkey home.

Elyse Gazewitz, 42, and her attorney said they plan to file an appeal to Circuit Court and ask for a trial.

Tuesday’s hearing was the latest twist in a case that drew national attention after Gazewitz made tearful pleas before television cameras for her pet monkey’s return.

In May, county animal control officers seized the capuchin monkey from Gazewitz’s home after receiving a call from someone concerned about the animal’s welfare. The officers found the monkey in good health, but the county law prohibits ownership of wild animals, including primates. Gazewitz, who built a special room for her monkey and clothed it like a child, vowed to fight for the monkey’s return. Animal control officers also cited her with having unlicensed dogs as well as possessing a wild animal.

Judge Patricia L. Mitchell dismissed one of the charges — failure to vaccinate a dog — after Gazewitz showed she had paperwork from a vet proving the dog was vaccinated. Four of the other citations carry a $50 fine each, but the judge suspended a $500 fine on the possession of a wild animal charge.

However, under county law, any finding of guilt involving an animal citation can be appealed to Circuit Court even though a guilty plea is entered.

‘‘We did not want to lay out our case before the county and give them a chance to prepare for it when we would take it to the Circuit Court anyway,” said Anne Benaroya, Gazewitz’s attorney.

Gazewitz already has appealed a county Animal Control Hearing Board decision that affirmed the seizure of the monkey. Benaroya expects both appeals to be combined.

On Aug. 9, a judge granted Gazewitz’s request to visit her monkey, which has been held in quarantine at the Catoctin zoo in Thurmont.

Gazewitz spent Saturday and Sunday with Armani.

‘‘He leaped on my shoulder,” she said after Tuesday’s hearing, adding that he appeared to recognize her immediately. ‘‘He was very upset when I had to leave on Saturday. I was crying, and he didn’t want me to leave.”