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Sanctuary Under Siege

June 02, 2006 | Chimpanzees / Animal Rights

Concocting a Lawsuit Against a Texas Refuge, Welfare Advocates Throw the Ball at the Wrong Goal

For 23 years, a small group of chimpanzees, natives of equatorial Africa with an intense natural urge for motion and freedom, were kept in Ohio and used in cognition experiments.

When the project's funding dried up, and the University decided to divest itself of the research subjects, the Texas sanctuary Primarily Primates stepped forward to accept the chimpanzees.

The nine chimpanzees were taken out of the Ohio lab on the 27th of February. The experimenter, chained to the laboratory door in an angry display against the University, protested the end of the research opportunity, and quickly found allies to help attack the sanctuary. Some animal advocates joined in the pile-on -- even going so far as to insist they should sue the refuge, and then touting this attack as a landmark case. Great Ape Standing & Personhood provides a report, including observations sent directly from the sanctuary by leading animal rights advocate Priscilla Feral. Read the report by Great Ape Standing & Personhood here.


The person who ran the experiment on innocent animals must not have any empathy or understanding of how much suffering is caused in the name of research. To try to hurt the sanctuary is the opposite of how a human being should feel,unless they are mentally challenged.

Update, September 2006: Having just had its lawsuit against Primarily Primates (PPI) rejected by a court, PeTA has begun another attack on the sanctuary by posting on its website and circulating highly questionable affidavits. One affidavit is from Terry Minchew. This person has been an active member of the Simian Society of America, a group that promotes the commerce in primates as pets. Hardly a paragon of credibility in a case against a sanctuary -- a sanctuary, by the way, that became a dumping ground for many of Minschew's own discarded animals. On top of it all, had PeTA prevailed, as the case developed, the chimpanzees in question would have gone to Chimp Haven. Created to meet the purposes of the CHIMP Act, Chimp Haven is not a true sanctuary, because it keeps the titles to resident apes in the hands of the research sector. Primarily Primates is fully capable of refuting PeTA's continued allegations; indeed, that's what it's been doing for weeks. Meanwhile, the time and costs of defending their sanctuary from PeTA comes right out of the mouths of the sanctuary's nonhuman residents. To support Friends of Animals’ work to ensure that the sanctuary survives this most recent onslaught, please contribute to: Friends of Animals Attn: Sanctuary Support 777 Post Road Darien, Connecticut 06820

Has anyone reading this actually been to PPI in San Antonio in the past 6 months? [Blog editors' note: Yes.]

The amateurish and child-like statements of Lee Theisen-Watt, the Attorney General's receiver responsible for assessing the conditions at Primarily Primates in San Antonio, are absurd. “Attila the Hun would take over and it would be under better management.” Is this an insightful, meaningful assessment of a qualified animal-care professional in charge of determining the fate of over 800 animals? "They're all getting attention. They know something's going on and they're excited," states Theisen-Watt. This statement would lead one to believe that the animals at the sanctuary have the human attributes of reasoning and hope. Perhaps she does not realize that even animals receiving the best of care exhibit “excitement” from attention and treats. At the same time she seeks court permission to euthanize animals they deem unfit. Euthanasia is not legal for humans. By her analogy, euthanasia for animals should not be such an effortless and convenient option if animals indeed possess the "awareness" and emotions she believes. Numerous inflammatory inaccuracies have been stated to the media by Theisen-Watt, PETA attorney Leana Stormont and other PETA representatives. One of their primary charges is that the two OSU chimps that died this year suffered horrible deaths at the hands of PPI. They fail to include that both chimps were under the care of experienced primate veterinarians, both had heart problems before they arrived at PPI, both lived stressful lives in small enclosures in a laboratory and one was severely obese which further supports that he had received poor care and diet before arriving at PPI. It has been reported that one of the first actions Theisen-Watt performed was providing blankets to the chimps at PPI. Providing any rope-like cloth to climbing animals is a hazard. She clearly is out of her area of expertise. Theisen-Watt and PETA are touting the tremendous improvements in just a week since the take-over. Just as the grandparent, aunt or uncle comes with gifts and treats to spoil a child, such treatment on a daily basis is not in the best interest of the animal. Proper animal care is concerned with long term health and quality of life. If the animals at PPI have indeed suffered the many years of severe neglect, abuse and starvation that Theisen-Watt describes they would not be in a condition to have such a quick response to “proper care” and exhibit “excitement”. The fact that they are described as excitable, active and interested in new objects and treats would support PPI's position that they are physically and psychologically healthy. Only healthy animals are curious and excitable. I have personally visited the PPI facility and observed the animals on three occasions in the past year. The animals appeared to be well taken care of. The cages were clean on each visit. The animals appeared relaxed and under no stress. Many of the enclosures are of such size that they contain entire oak trees and provided more room for small primates than I have seen in any zoo. The animals were alert, curious and playful. The facility needs improvements due to the age of some of the structures, but is in not by any stretch a "new horror at every turn" as Theisen-Watt claims. PETA’s continuing attacks over many years in their vendetta against PPI have been a financial drain on precious resources. The funds required for legal expenses would have been better spent on improvements to the facility. PETA, with their deep pockets, employs and effective tactic of litigating until their opponent’s resources are depleted and a defense can no longer be funded. PPI has been devoted to saving lives and providing care for unwanted animals for over two decades. These animals have been discarded from laboratories, zoos and exotic pet owners. Many have a history of abuse and neglect. Many are elderly or arrived at PPI with behavioral problems. These animals have special needs and sad stories. They deserve to cared for. PPI successfully defended itself against PETA’s charges of abuse earlier this year in a San Antonio court. Now the Attorney General gives PETA, under the direction of Theisen-Watt, full control of the animals’ welfare without allowing PPI to defend itself, yet again, against the allegations. PETA has taken the position that it is easier to kill animals than to provide care for them. PETA has killed over 14,000 animals, 80% of those it has taken in, at its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. Numerous veterinarians and other animal care professionals have visited PPI in the past year and can counter the distorted and inaccurate claims PPI is charged with. PETA has equated the Holocaust with the plight of poultry. Are they in any position to offer a reasonable opinion on anything? "Theisen-Watt said that since she arrived late last week, Sarah, an Ohio State chimp who had reportedly lost a third of her body weight after arriving at Primarily Primates, already is doing better." Evidence was furnished in PETA's lawsuit against PPI in July that Sarah had gained weight well before Theisen-Watt was involved. This appears to be an exercise in self-promotion by Theisen-Watt and to further PETA’s radical agenda and continual attacks against PPI. It is offensive that the Attorney General of Texas would align with such an extremist group as PETA. That the Attorney General would allow PETA staff unrestrained access to the animals and records at PPI during an investigation is unfathomable. Theisen-Watt was clearly biased before she arrived at the sanctuary. “The Attorney General’s Office has given the animals a chance to at last be cared for properly,” was her opening statement on October 14th when the raid occurred. Would it not be in the best interest of the citizens of Texas to have an impartial, qualified party experienced in the long-term care of primates to determine the true conditions at PPI? This fiasco is an embarrassment to the office of the Attorney General and to the State of Texas. The citizens and animals of Texas deserve better. PPI needs support and assistance to improve on a worthy cause, not a careless assessment by an unqualified individual and her troupe of radical extremists. Respectfully, J. Kuhn

Over the last 4 1/2 years, I've had the honor of witnessing the commitment and love the founder of PPI has for the animals under his care. Wally (Since I consider him a close and personal friend, I will call him Wally.) is, in my opinion, very dedicated animal lover. I've seen the heartbreak he felt when even the smallest animal in his care passed away. One statement I read this evening on the PETA website, by John Fisher, stated how Wally did not take proper care of the baby chimp he romved from the mother. No mention was made as to why the baby chimp was removed from the mother. If I remember correctly it was because the baby was in more danger with his own mother, than away from her. I saw that baby chimp and how Wally took care of him. He cuddled the chimp and cried at just the thought of losing him. He was wrapped in a baby blanket and was very receptive to human care and touch. He held onto my finger with his toes. He was so much like a human child, he was so sweet. (Just one more of Wally's babies) When I spoke with Wally a few days later, he started to cry while telling me that the baby chimp had died. I also recall that last year Wally started having trouble with a few of his staff. I remember it really bothered him, but instead of saying bad things about those staff members, he was optimistic that it wold all be fine in the end. Shortly afterwards Wally had a broken leg (if I remember correctly) and relied on his staff to continue the care of the animals at PPI. While I have not personally seen PPI, I have been invited to come visit and even asked to volunteer several times. To my deepest regrets, I was unable to to either. (I'm a single mom to a little boy with health problems. All my extra time not working, is devoted to him.) If PETA even began to understand what Wally was doing and how devoted he was to the animals entrusted to him, I would think they would be helping, not hindering his work. It also seems to me, that if they truly cared about these animals they would be enlisting his help, instead of taking the facility he spent his life creating. Wouldn't the money they are wasting in court battles, CPA's, Lawyers and other such things be better put to use in actually helping the animals? Instead they plan on euthanizing some and who knows what to the others. Why?? because they lost in court? because they have nothing better to do? I'm confused.

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