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Monkey takes shine to escape

Bella's antics costly for worried owners, three curious boys

Friday, July 17, 1998

By Ginny Kopas, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It was a zoo in Export this week.

Bella, a 2-year-old Japanese snow monkey, back in the protective custody of owner Tina Fisher of Filmore Street, Export. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette)

State game officials were on alert, as were hospitals, borough officials, state police, even the Health Department -- all because of a little monkeyshine.

But Tina Fisher of Filmore Street, Export, who owns Bella, a 2-year-old Japanese snow monkey, says her innocent family pet couldn't have harmed anyone during its vaunted few hours of freedom early Sunday morning.

Fisher was responding to reports that three youngsters were bitten or scratched by the monkey when it ran loose through the borough.

Richard McGarvey of the state Health Department said his office had set up a phone line at 724-832-5315 to collect information.

He said his office received a report that three junior high school-age boys whom officials would not identify were getting rabies shots. McGarvey said his office had not received any official paperwork about the incident.

But Fisher said she thought giving the boys shots was an unfortunate and unnecessary overreaction.

And, for the Fisher family, very expensive.

"She's an innocent, healthy, loving creature. I certainly wouldn't have a sick monkey around my children," said Fisher, who has a son, 6, and daughter, 9.

Fisher said the animal had been registered with the state, as required, and had up-to-date inoculations. Even so, last night Bella was taken to a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals and given $500 worth of tests, which the Fishers must pay for.

Tina Fisher works at a local bar; her husband, Kirk, is a car salesman. When the couple bought Bella in 1997 after spotting a classified ad, they paid $5,000. Bella is their first exotic purchase.

The Fishers recently moved into the two-story yellow brick home on Filmore and, on Saturday, Tina Fisher put Bella in a new cage in the basement for the night. Bella, who weighs about 4 pounds, managed to pick the lock and ran outside and up a tree.

"At this point, the town reacted like it was a party," Fisher recalled. "There were lots of laughs and photographs as we coaxed her down."

Some local boys helped Fisher return the monkey to the basement, where Tina put her in another cage.

Tina Fisher even secured the cellar door with some old mattresses.

"Imagine my surprise then when I looked out the window later (on Saturday night) and spotted Bella in the arms of one of the boys running through the yard," Fisher said yesterday.

The monkey apparently got away from the boy, she said, and Fisher called on some neighbors to start looking for the monkey again.

But the search Saturday night was fruitless.

At about 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Fisher got a call from Mayor Paul Teacher, who had joined in the search. He told her the animal was just a couple of hundred feet away from its home, sitting on a car hood in the downtown section of the borough.

Bella actually jumped into Tina Fisher's arms when she reached the animal, she said.

Fisher insisted the animal was taken from her basement the second time, but she has not pressed charges.

"I know kids. She's hard to resist, a beautiful creature," she said.

For her part, Bella seems none the more worse for wear -- regardless of how she escaped.

Before going to the vet, she rode on her owner's shoulders, getting tangled in Fisher's long auburn hair. Bella downed a few of her favorite treats, Jolly Ranchers, and did some back flips before resting on top of a swing set.

Export, a tiny borough of about 980 people in northwest Westmoreland County, is patroled by state police. There were no official reports of any more monkeyshines.

Pittsburgh Zoo officials were not available for comment on the care of the somewhat rare monkey. But local police and McGarvey said to use common sense if and when you ever find an exotic animal roaming your back yard.

"Call us. Don't pet it," said McGarvey.

"Why do you think they are called wild?" McGarvey asked.

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