City officials are trying to identify the owner of a monkey that bit a local woman over the weekend in the second monkey attack in Columbia in less than a year. City health officials said they are confident the pet in the July 4 attack is being tested for diseases in St. Louis.
The weekend attack happened in a local residence when a young woman was bitten on the hand between the thumb and the index finger by a pet snow monkey, also known as a Japanese macaque, owned by an acquaintance, Columbia Environmental Health Manager Gerry Worley said.
The victim was holding the leash when the monkey bit her and then jumped up into her lap, a "typical type of spastic reaction of a monkey," Worley said. The victim went to a local hospital for treatment, and a hospital employee called the Columbia/Boone County Health Department to report the animal bite as required by law.
When animal control officers arrived at the hospital, however, the people present refused to reveal the name of the monkey’s owner. Worley said he has since been able to confirm that the monkey is now under the care of a St. Louis veterinarian who is testing it for diseases, including the rare but deadly Simian B virus, known to be carried by the macaque species.
"I think we are making some progress, and we feel confident that it’s being tested the way we want it to be tested," Worley said.
The veterinarian is invoking the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, to protect the identity of the monkey’s owner. Worley said the city attorney is looking into the legality of this and also plans to contact State Public Health Veterinarian Howard Pue for legal clarification.
The incident is eerily familiar to one that occurred Sept. 22 when a woman, Libby Brozovich, brought a pet rhesus macaque monkey to Stephens Lake Park. The monkey bit two children, and Brozovich disappeared from the park before authorities could interview her.
For several months, Brozovich’s identity was unknown. One of the victims that day, 7-year-old Liam Ritten, had to endure two rounds of blood testing, a viral medication and an antibiotic because the monkey could not be tested and ruled healthy.
Contacted by phone today, Liam’s mother, Kim Ritten, said her son has tested negative for disease, adding that it is time Columbia stepped up and forced owners of exotic pets to register with the city so that they can be quickly identified after a bite.
"Something needs to change with the law. I mean, you have to register a dog," she said, referring to a mandatory city license for a dog or cat older than 3 months. "There has to be some stricter penalties if you do have an animal like a monkey and it’s not registered because they’re not pets really."
Ritten said her son was traumatized by the bite and endured teasing at school. She said he has been subpoenaed to testify Tuesday in court against Brozovich on two counts of keeping a dangerous or aggressive animal.
Worley said he would favor stricter regulations, but that decision lies with Columbia City Council.
"We have the animal control people really trying to do their jobs, but sometimes the tools they have to use are less than perfect," he said.