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Famed Artist's Captive Monkey Attacks Hairdresser, Who Files Suit

Published 09/01/10

A Queens hairdresser is suing a famed artist and owner of a fancy upstate bed-and-breakfast after his pet capuchin monkey mauled her during a weekend visit.

Parvin Hajihossini, 53, has suffered from nightmares since she was attacked by Benjamin at the plush Kaaterskill lodge in Catskill, says her lawyer, Richard Ancowitz.

The monkey is owned by hotelier Allen Hirsch, who painted President Bill Clinton's inaugural portrait as well as several Time magazine covers.

Hajihossini was snapping photographs of Benjamin in his enclosure at the six-room hideaway when the monkey jumped out and attacked her on July 18 as a worker watched, Ancowitz says.

She was left with a horrific scar that snakes down her cheek.

"They certainly didn't expect this, to be bitten by a monkey who wasn't properly guarded," Ancowitz said.

After the attack, according to Ancowitz, local health officials ordered the monkey destroyed and checked for rabies, but Hirsch failed to turn over his pet.

The monkey is still missing and Hirsch declined to comment on the advice of his lawyer. He's currently in South America. Ancowitz says Hajihossini has been so depressed by the injury that she doesn't want her customers to see her.

The hairdresser was forced to get a painful rabies shot after Hirsch disappeared with the monkey after the attack.

The suit filed in Queens Supreme Court says Benjamin had shown "a vicious propensity" before.

Hajihossini and Ancowitz told the story this week to "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith.

As she was being attacked, Hajihossini said, "I screamed, 'I lost my face!" '

"There was an order from the public health authorities that the monkey had to produced for rabies testing," Ancowitz said. "Otherwise, she had to undergo … rabies injections, which … are very painful. Unfortunately, once the public health authorities got involved, the owner of the monkey decided to flee. And the monkey's on the lam. And she had to undergo a series of very painful injections."

"This very monkey," he continued, "was written up in the New York Times last year in a story about monkeys and their owners and about how monkeys are treated as members of the family. But monkeys (are) wild animals. Wild animals belong in the wild."

Benjamin attacked someone once before, five years ago, Ancowitz told Smith. "We're here because we don't want this to happen to anybody else," he said. " … This happens all too frequently and it's preventable. … This kind of thing should not be happening, but it keeps happening and it's got to stop."

"Think of the human being," Parvin said.

In the 2009 story Ancowitz referred to, it was reported:
Hirsch bonded with his monkey early in its life. Benjamin, a 12-year-old capuchin monkey who came to Hirsch as a sickly mistreated infant, is like “a primordial human,” he says. “You recognize something very human in his gaze, a certain understanding, a certain awareness.”

From the start, Hirsch said, it has been a time-consuming, demanding relationship. After Benjamin bit off two of his own diseased toes, Hirsch stayed with him for four months, rarely leaving his side. Since having a monkey as a pet is illegal in New York City, he now keeps Benjamin in his country house in Catskill, N.Y., where a friend must often look after him. (New York state also banned monkeys as pets four years ago, but Benjamin is grandfathered in.)

But if owning Benjamin has kept him from traveling as much as he once did, that’s OK. Hirsch has bathed with Benjamin, slept with him, and allowed him to play with his daughter, who is just about the same age; he sees the monkey as very much a family member.

“I never call him a pet,” Hirsch adds. “He’s a fellow creature I take care of.”

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