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.
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 Yasmin Nakhuda, Darwin's owner, to get him back, and it's now alleging in court documents filed Friday in Ontario Superior Court in Oshawa, Ont., that she abused him. The documents did not say how the sanctuary learned about the alleged abuse.
Ms. 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 Ms. Nakhuda, a real estate lawyer, was introduced to an illegal exotic animal dealer by a client.
Ms. 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 whole family, including Ms. Nakhuda's husband and her 11-year-old and 16-year-old sons, have abused Darwin since then, the sanctuary alleges.
They have strangled Darwin, hit him in the head and face, used a wooden spoon to hit him, forced him to live in a small dog crate, failed to change his diaper for up to three days and failed to comply with standards of care for captive primates, the sanctuary alleges.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Mr. 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," Mr. Charney said. "The allegations against the children are particularly disturbing."
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.
In advance of a Jan. 31 court hearing, Mr. Charney recently interviewed the two animal control officers who got Ms. 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," Mr. Charney said the officers testified under oath.
Ms. 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 Ms. Nakhuda and Darwin entered as evidence in court show the monkey swaddled like a baby asleep in bed with Ms. Nakhuda and curled up asleep on her younger son's lap. 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," Mr. Charney said. "Not one person has come forward to say they witnessed abuse."
Ms. 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 Ms. 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 Ms. 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."