The battle over a Japanese macaque known as the Ikea monkey is heating up, with a primate sanctuary alleging his owners strangled the animal, hit him with a wooden spoon and planned to have his teeth removed.
But a lawyer representing the woman who is trying to get her pet back dismisses the claims, saying they're an attempt to discredit his client.
Anything can be claimed in such court documents, "no matter how ridiculous or untrue," Ted Charney said in a statement.
Yasmin Nakhuda, the real-estate lawyer fighting to bring the monkey home to her family, told CBC News on Sunday that the allegations aimed at her and her family are unfounded.
"These allegations have really no foundation," Nakhuda said in a telephone interview.
"They are ridiculous, unsupported."
The monkey named Darwin has resided at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., since he was found in December wandering in the parking lot of a Toronto Ikea, wearing a little shearling coat.
The sanctuary is trying to block efforts by Nakhuda to get him back. According to a statement of defence filed in Ontario Superior Court in Oshawa, Ont., the sanctuary and its founder are alleging Nakhuda abused the monkey.
'These allegations have really no foundation. They are ridiculous, unsupported.' —Yasmin Nakhuda, fighting for ownership of Darwin
Nakhuda has said that a breeder gave Darwin to her as a gift in July, though she hasn't identified the breeder publicly or in the court proceedings. But the sanctuary alleges Nakhuda, a real estate lawyer, was introduced to an illegal exotic animal dealer by a client.
The documents say the dealer, who mainly conducts business in Montreal, claims not only to deal in monkeys, but also in other exotic animals like bald eagles, kangaroos and white tigers.
Nakhuda tried to return Darwin after a few days and balked at the $10,000 price tag, but she decided to pay and to keep Darwin after the dealer showed her how to abuse the monkey so he behaved, the sanctuary alleges.
The sanctuary alleges that Nakhuda and other family members have:
- Strangled Darwin.
- Hit him in the head and face.
- Hit the animal with a wooden spoon.
- Forced Darwin to live in a small dog crate.
- Failed to change his diaper for up to three days.
- Failed to give the monkey veterinary care.
- Failed to feed Darwin appropriately.
- Failed to comply with standards of care for captive primates.
Darwin was biting the family to protect himself, which prompted them to make plans to have his teeth removed, the sanctuary alleges.
The sanctuary suggests animal cruelty laws were broken, and that Nakhuda knew it was illegal to possess a monkey in Toronto when she purchased Darwin.
Abuse allegations intimidation ploy, says Nakhuda's lawyer
Charney said the strangulation allegation may relate to a technique for bathing the monkey.
"She holds him by the neck to keep him still or above water," he said. "The defence calls this strangulation. (Sanctuary founder Sherri) Delaney has extreme views about people owning a monkey. What the community considers normal pet handling, she considers abuse."
"We believe this pleading is designed to shock the public and discredit Yasmin so as to intimidate her into dropping the lawsuit," Charney said.
In advance of a Jan. 31 court hearing, Charney recently interviewed the two animal control officers who got Nakhuda to surrender Darwin and said neither reported signs of abuse.
"When Yasmin was allowed to see him at animal services he was extremely happy to see her and she was very helpful by changing his diaper and washing him," Charney said the officers testified under oath.
Nakhuda refused sanctuary's supervised visit conditions
Nakhuda maintains that she signed a surrender form at animal services because she was told if she did she would not face criminal charges for owning an illegal animal.
She has said that she has cared for Darwin like her child and was his mother figure. Photos of Nakhuda and Darwin entered as evidence in court show the monkey swaddled like a baby asleep in bed with Nakhuda. She has posted videos of Darwin brushing his teeth with her and climbing a door at her office.
"There are many YouTube videos which show Darwin with the family looking just fine and reveal a loving relationship," Charney said.
"Not one person has come forward to say they witnessed abuse."
Nakhuda has posted more videos this weekend, filmed when she still had possession of him, including one in which she demonstrates how to change his diaper.
An Ontario Superior Court judge has agreed to hear full arguments in January on where Darwin should stay until the case can come to a trial, but ruled at an interim hearing on Dec. 21 that at least until then, the monkey will stay at the sanctuary.
The judge ruled that Nakhuda should be able to visit Darwin in the meantime, but she refused to accept the sanctuary's conditions of a supervised visit during which she would remain outside Darwin's enclosure.
She said it would be too traumatic for the monkey to see her in those circumstances, but the sanctuary alleges that Nakhuda won't agree to a supervised visit because she is afraid of staff witnessing Darwin's "potentially negative reaction to seeing his primary abuser."