December 21, 2014

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Spider monkey, owners had unusual odyssey before car dealership incident

VERMILION — It’s been a busy four months for 20-year-old Jacob Ruehlman. Since September, he has allegedly stolen two pet gibbons in Nebraska, traveled across state lines, been charged in Florida and resurfaced in Vermilion after his pet spider monkey reportedly bit an employee at a car dealership.

Jacob Ruehlman

Jacob Ruehlman

On Tuesday, Ruehlman arrived at Pat O’Brien Chevrolet, 4545 Liberty Ave., Vermilion, with a brother, whose name was not released by police, and their pet spider monkey, “Brody.” According to Vermilion police, an employee at the dealership who was helping the brothers asked if he could pet Brody.

When he did, the monkey bit him on the thumb, drawing blood and sending the employee to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain.

Ruehlman told police the monkey had his rabies shots in Missouri last year, which was later verified by a veterinarian there. Officers told the brothers they needed to find a facility to quarantine the monkey for three days. Neither Ruehlman nor his brother has been charged in connection to Tuesday’s incident, but police continue to investigate.

This is not the first time Ruehlman has had problems with police regarding his care of monkeys.

In July, Jacob Ruehlman and a brother, Michael, also 20, moved in with Nancy Stephens in Nebraska after meeting her online, Stephens said.

Stephens, who owned two gibbons of her own named Caylee and Cody, said she offered to take the brothers in because they said they needed to leave Ohio, where laws about owning exotic pets were getting stricter. She said they lived with her for a few months and she even paid for a vaccination for Brody before the brothers suddenly moved out in the middle of the night.

But, according to Stephens, they were back in mid-September, snuck into Stephens’ house and stole Caylee and Cody, bringing the gibbons and Brody across state lines into Florida.

“They think they’re above the law,” she said, adding that she hasn’t talked to the men since they moved out.

The brothers’ travels ended Sept. 19 with a sting operation orchestrated by Debra Misotti, director of the “Talkin’ Monkey Project,” a facility that cares for monkeys in Florida, and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.

Misotti said she knew the brothers from conversations with them before Stephens’ gibbons were stolen. The two had asked her specific questions about caring for gibbons, and when she heard that Caylee and Cody had been stolen, she immediately suspected the Ruehlman brothers, she said.

Through almost 20 phone conversations with the brothers, Misotti said she was able to convince them to give the stolen gibbons to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The gibbons were turned over to the “Talkin’ Monkey Project,” where they are being cared for.

“They’re traumatized from being stolen,” Misotti said.

On Sept. 19, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office found the men in Fort Myers, and charged them with dealing stolen property and six charges related to having exotic animals without a license. The status of those charges is unclear.

During their arrest, Brody was confiscated and given to the care of the “Talkin’ Monkey Project” where Misotti said he had difficulty living without his owners.

“He was extremely stressed and did need his family.”

Based largely on Misotti’s suggestion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to return Brody to the brothers soon after their arrest.

Misotti said she knows Brody is with the men and even heard about the incident in Vermilion. However, she thinks it’s for the best.

“That species is a familial species. To remove him from his family environment is a death sentence,” she said.

Spider monkeys must be taken everywhere because they require 24-hour care, which would explain why the brothers took Brody to the car dealership, Misotti said.

Despite her support of the brothers, whom she said are “loving” to their pet monkey, Misotti said she knows they might need a little more education on how to take care of an exotic animal.

“They need to be more cautious and cognizant of the real world,” she said.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLMerriman.