VERMILION — An incident in which a spider monkey bit the thumb of a curious stranger last week and was euthanized just after midnight Saturday because of the bite has gained international attention.
“The entire primate community is enraged,” Dr. Deborah Misotti said. Misotti is director of the Talkin’ Monkey Project, a primate sanctuary in Florida. She said she has spent the weekend talking to other primate- and primate-sanctuary owners across the world about the case of the euthanized monkey.
The attention was sparked by the incident Tuesday in which Jacob Ruehlman, 20, of Vermilion, brought his pet spider monkey Brodi along with him to Pat O’Brien Chevrolet, 4545 Liberty Ave., Vermilion.
An employee at the dealership attempted to pet Brodi through a window of the car and was bitten on the thumb by the monkey, according to a police report. The bite drew blood, and the employee drove himself to the hospital.
Ruehlman told police Brodi had received rabies vaccinations in Missouri a year earlier, which was later verified by police. Police indicated the monkey needed to be quarantined for three days.
However, the Erie County Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Agriculture decided to euthanize Brodi in order to check for rabies, according to Erie County Health Commissioner Peter Schade.
On Friday night, representatives from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and officers from the Union County Sheriff’s Office picked up the spider monkey in Marysville, where he was being quarantined at the home of a friend of Ruehlman’s. They brought the monkey back to Erie County, where he was euthanized just after midnight.
Tests done Saturday showed that Brodi did not have rabies, according to Schade.
The decision to euthanize the monkey sparked outrage in the primate-owner community, which spans the globe, according to Misotti.
Misotti said she spent much of Friday and Saturday discussing the issue with members of the community from Peru, Guatamala, India and Germany, to name a few.
One of the women she’s discussed the issue with is humanitarian and primate-advocate Noga Shanee, who lives and works in Peru.
“She couldn’t even respond,” Misotti said of the moment she told Shanee that Brodi had been euthanized.
Misotti said she plans to bring up the incident for discussion at a primate owner and advocate meeting in April.
For now, many members of the primate-support community are still in shock, believing that the Erie County Health Department could have taken other actions to deal with the situation.
“There was absolutely no reason for them to kill this monkey,” said Kari Bagnall, director of Jungle Friends, another primate sanctuary in Florida.
North Carolina Zoo veterinarian Ryan DeVoe doesn’t agree. DeVoe said that because researchers have not extensively tested rabies vaccines on monkeys, they are unable to tell if a rabies vaccine will be completely effective on a non-human primate. So far, the only way to test if a monkey that is infected with the disease is through a post-mortem analysis of its brain tissue, he said.
“A risk does exist, and there’s no way to negate that risk, short of to euthanize the animal,” he said.
Misotti and other members of the primate-support community expressed regret that the monkey was brought into a situation in which an incident of biting could result.
According to police, Ruehlman does not have a permit to possess an exotic animal. Ruehlman has said he was in the process of obtaining the permit and pursuing co-ownership of the monkey with a woman in Marysville, but exactly who has ownership of the monkey is unclear.
Ruehlman was arrested in September in Lee County, Fla., in connection with the theft of two gibbons. Those charges are still pending.