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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Monkey tales: Owner defends Alex's antics

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some Sikeston residents claim this monkey, known as Alex by his friends, isn't under the control of hiswner, Phyllis Gates. Gates disagrees.
SIKESTON -- Alex is not a bad monkey, according to his owner. He's just the latest target in a neighborhood conflict.

Phyllis Gates said she used to get along fine with her neighbors until she helped out a friend they didn't approve of, after which the problems started.

"They signed a complaint on my trailer, my shed and my Blazer," Gates said.

Then they set their sights on her pet by appearing before the City Council Monday armed with a petition and stories of monkey attacks.

"I was not notified or I would have been there and a lot of Alex's friends would have been there," Gates said.

Commonly known as a Grivet, Vervet, Savanna monkey, or Green monkey, Benjamin Alexander Gates is of the African species Cercopithecus aethiops.

His friends, however, call him "Alex" and to Gates he is "momma's little boy."

"He was purchased from private dealers in Kansas City. He is very American," Gates said. "We took him off his mother at two weeks old. He will be six years old Oct. 30."

Exotic animals tend to attract a lot of attention, but they also take some extra care, according to Gates.

"We've kind of learned as we go along, what to do to take precautions. He used to run loose in the house but he's like a kid and likes to get into everything. His tail can knock over things easily. We've learned a lot over the years to make things better," she said. "He's not going to hurt anyone unless they do something to make him think they will hurt him. The worst he would do is probably shake your shirt or something."

Gates said Alex is always in a harness and on a leash or in his cage.

While the city now has an ordinance prohibiting exotic animals, Alex was here first and is "grandfathered" in. In addition to Alex, Gates has an Amazon parrot, Goobee; a pair of cockatiels, Pete and Judy; and a Schnauzer, Peanuts.

Alex is kind of special, however.

"He watches TV -- he doesn't like you to change his channel," Gates said. "He likes that 'Bear in the Big Blue House.' He'll get that remote and put it under his arm so I don't change the channel. I had to move the telephone because he would answer the phone."

Being treated like a child even includes discipline. "Alex gets spankings, but I don't beat him," she said.

While Peggy Bearden told the Council Gates can't control Alex, Gates disagrees, having seen how other monkeys can act up.

"I bet you mine is more obedient," Gates said. "I can show you how fast I can control him. The worst he will do is shake your shirt -- I'm working on those little fits right now."

With proper introductions, Alex is easy to get along with, she said.

"How you get to know him is you stand still and let him come up to you and he sniffs of you," Gates explained. "From then on, he knows exactly who you are and remembers you. Then he's not afraid, sees you're not afraid, and everything's cool -- he's got a new friend."

Brenda Harris of Sikeston, who said she has known Alex for over a year, agreed.

"I know the monkey well -- very, very well. He's almost like a human; he's a beautiful animal. I fell in love with Alex the first time I saw him. He's a very lovable animal," Harris said. "My rat terrier is meaner than him."

The alleged "attack" on Bearden's grandson that was mentioned in Monday's City Council meeting was "really exaggerated," Gates said.

"Alex did not attack him. Alex was already on the ground and standing up, and he reached out and touched the boy's shirt and then the boy jumped back and said 'Ugga ugga," Gates said. "I said, 'Honey, that's considered teasing -- please don't tease him or you won't be able to play with him."

The boy then reportedly got close enough again that Alex grabbed his shirt and chewed on it before the boy pulled away, leaving "two little bitty holes," Gates said. "Somebody did something to make that hole in the shirt bigger."

"He doesn't have any teeth in the top or bottom -- I had them all removed," she noted. Gates is now considering having a couple more of Alex's teeth removed, just to be on the safe side.

"The boy did not have a scratch on him," Harris said. "If he wouldn't have jerked back, it probably wouldn't have ripped his shirt."

Bearden also told City Council members that Alex bit one of the neighbors.

"No, he did not bite her," Gates said. "It caught her off guard, and he scratched her arm -- he did not bite her."

Up until that moment, they had been getting along fine even though the neighbor had been giving Alex beer out of the palm of her hand.

"I said, 'Honey, I wish you wouldn't do that; he'll just want more. There's something about that stuff he really likes," Gates recalled.

Gates said the neighbor had started talking to some other people who had walked up and that Alex was trying to get her attention because he wanted more.

"We went to court over this - I was my own lawyer," she said. "I made sure that they knew she was under the influence and that she asked me to come up in her yard."

Even though the court ruled in Gates' favor, "that's when I learned the lesson that don't let just anybody walk up and mess with him," she said. Gates said she is also having Alex's fingernails removed to prevent scratches in the future.

"Phyllis has always taken care of animals. She loves animals and is a good-

hearted person. These people are just totally harassing her," Harris said. "She does have control of that animal and it never runs loose."

"Alex is a good little animal," Gates said. "I treat him just like a baby, and that's the way I want him treated."