MARGATE, FLA. (WSVN) - Animal activists have voiced concerns about a competition at the Broward County Fair that features monkeys riding on the backs of dogs.
7News cameras captured the small primates dressed up as jockeys during a Banana Derby race at the fair in Margate, Sunday night.
“The only place you can see monkeys riding dogs in South Florida is at the Broward County Fair,” said Philip Hendricks, the Banana Derby’s owner.
The attraction, which attracts fairgoers on a nightly basis, also features a balancing dog act.
But it’s the races involving Capuchin monkeys that have drawn criticism from animal activists.
“In this day and age, to have such a barbaric – wildlife being captured and forced to ride for money is absolutely inexcusable,” said animal activist Susan Hargreaves, “and I’m surprised at the City of Margate for allowing this.”
City officials, however, said they approved the Broward County Fair and not each individual vendor or show.
City commissioner Tommy Ruzzano spoke with 7News on Monday.
“The involvement with the city was just to approve the times of the event and the days. The [Margate Community Redevelopment Agency] was the one that approved the property use,” he said. “As far as what the carnival brought, that’s up to them. We were not in charge of that.”
In a letter to Margate Mayor Antonio V. Arserio, spokespeople for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance called the practice abusive and stressful for the animals involved.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has since become involved. The animal rights organization issued a statement on Monday that reads in part, “It’s the 21st century, and chaining terrified monkeys to dogs’ backs puts the animals in danger and appalls anyone who knows and respects wildlife.”
Hendricks said the monkeys are like family to him.
“These horrible, horrific allegations are not true. These animals are well taken care of. They’re part of our family. People should see for themselves,” he said.
“I did go out to it. I went out to it, and I witnessed it. I went the first time they did it, and I actually spoke to our K-9 crew yesterday, and they told me that the way it’s done and the way they’re trained, it’s definitely a form of food and a reward,” said Ruzzano. “Everybody has dogs and pets, and they’ve trained them their own ways. I went out there; I didn’t see any abuse.”
This is the Banana Derby’s 14th season, and it conrinues to bring in enthusiastic crowds.
“It makes me happy and excited,” said fairgoer Kayla.
“I thought it was cute, too. I love how they train [the monkeys],” said Markes.
“I think it’s OK because the animals aren’t being harmed in any way,” said another fairgoer.
Broward County Fair spokesperson Mitchell Pellecchia weighed in on the controversy during a phone interview, Sunday night.
“This is [expletive], all right? Nobody knows the backstories of the Capuchin monkeys,” he said.
“There’s nothing with it. The people who don’t like it will never have it. They’re not going to be happy until nobody owns an animal, nobody eats a burger,” said Hendricks. “I can’t please those people. I wish them well.”
Some city commissioners who responded to 7News’ requests for comment said they opposed the measure that enabled the Banana Derby to be included as an attraction at the fair.
PETA activists said that what the Banana Derby is doing is illegal. They are planning to stage a protest at the fairgrounds on Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m., as well as additional demonstrations this weekend.
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