‘Quit the Monkey Business’: PETA Wants Sandusky County Fair to Ditch Federal Law–Violating Organ Grinders

For Immediate Release:
February 21, 2024

David Perle 202-483-7382

Fremont, Ohio

Following just-released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports revealing that monkey exhibitors featured at the Sandusky County Fair have racked up numerous violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—including multiple incidents of children being bitten by a monkey—PETA fired off a letter this morning to Sandusky County Agricultural Society President Bob Lagrou, urging him to commit to ending the use of monkeys and other wild animals in exhibits at the fair.

monkey dressed in clothes and chained being held by someone slightly off screen
Jo Jo chained for photo ops at a fair in Ohio. Credit: PETA

According to a one USDA report, then-monkey exhibitor Norris Welch was cited for 11 violations of the AWA, including keeping a white-faced capuchin monkey named Jo Jo in a tiny, barren wire cage. After Welch lost his USDA license, another exhibitor, Desie Armstrong, unlawfully acquired Jo Jo. According to another USDA report, Armstrong was cited for 11 AWA violations, including removing the teeth of a capuchin named British because she intended to use him as a photo prop—and monkeys bite when frightened and stressed, which is inevitable when they’re forced into public interactions.

“Monkeys are sensitive, highly intelligent individuals, and the time has long passed for people to chain them up and parade them around in front of noisy crowds,” says primatologist and PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Welfare Debbie Metzler. “PETA is urging fair organizers to relegate these cruel and ridiculous ‘organ grinder’ acts to the history books, where they belong.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—points out that Every Animal Is Someone and offers free Empathy Kits for people who need a lesson in kindness. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, or Instagram.

PETA’s letter to Lagrou follows.

February 21, 2024

Bob Lagrou
Sandusky County Agricultural Society

Dear President Lagrou,

I’m writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) regarding a “Fun Times & Monkey Business” exhibit at August’s Sandusky County Fair. After PETA alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) of videos showing a capuchin biting children at the fair, the agency cited the exhibitor for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Considering these serious animal welfare and public safety issues, we hope you’ll agree not to feature monkeys or other exotic animals at any future events.

Norris Welch, the featured “organ grinder”—the term for this antiquated act—apparently failed to renew his USDA license to exhibit animals after he was cited for 11 AWA violations. These citations described Welch failing to provide a capuchin named JoJo such basics as an adequately big enough enclosure, safe transport crate, and an enrichment plan to promote his psychological well-being. In nature, capuchins explore lush rainforest habitats in large family groups. Welch housed JoJo in a barren wire cage alone, where inspectors observed him “showing signs of psychological distress” by “consistently rocking” and “pulling the excess chain from the collar.”

Desie Armstrong, the exhibitor cited for the biting incidents, unlawfully acquired JoJo from Welch after he lost his license, and her documented treatment of capuchins is equally appalling. She too was issued 11 AWA citations and an official warning. Armstrong admitted to mutilating British, a six-year-old capuchin, by removing the monkey’s canine and incisor teeth, which according to the inspector, “subject[s] the animal to unnecessary suffering, chronic medical issues, difficulty with proper diet intake, and eliminates the ability to perform species specific behaviors.” Armstrong put British through this horrific procedure with life-long consequences only because monkeys bite when frightened and stressed—which is bound to happen when they’re forced into public interactions. Even without teeth, their jaws or sharp nails can seriously injure humans, including your fairgoers.

With so many family-friendly options available that don’t exploit wild animals, may we please hear from you that Sandusky County Fair will avoid hosting exhibits using monkeys or other exotic animals going forward? Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

Debbie Metzler, M.S.
Primatologist & Director of Captive Animal Welfare

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