Woman says Connecticut chimpanzee bit her in '96

By: AP
By: AP

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A woman said Thursday that she was bitten more than a decade ago by the chimp who severely mauled his owner's friend this week, and that both the owner and police should have done more in response.

Leslie Mostel Paul told The Associated Press she tried to shake Travis the chimp's hand after his owner, Sandra Herold, gave her permission. Paul said the animal, who was sitting in Herold's car in a Stamford office parking lot, grabbed her hand and bit it hard enough to draw blood.

Paul described Herold as being more aggravated than upset about the incident, and said she had to get rabies shots because Herold was slow in producing Travis' medical records.

"My impression was she was more like, 'Oh, this is gonna be a pain in the neck,'" Paul said.

Paul said she reported the incident to police but received no follow-up calls.

"I told them this was serious," said Paul, who now lives in Atlanta but spoke by phone from New York. "If it was a child, it could have ripped the hand off or an arm out a socket."

In an earlier interview on NBC's "Today" show, Paul said. "I honestly believe if they had followed through, maybe the laws would have been changed sooner and this other woman wouldn't be in the hospital, fighting for her life now."

Neither Herold nor Stamford police immediately returned calls seeking comment Thursday.

Travis was killed by police Monday after severely wounding the face and hands of Herold's friend Charla Nash.

The 55-year-old Nash was transferred from Stamford Hospital to the Cleveland Clinic on Thursday but remained in critical condition. The Ohio clinic has expertise in facial reconstruction and performed the nation's first face transplant two months ago.

Herold, who raised the chimpanzee from its infancy, has called Travis a loving pet whose behavior Monday was completely out of character. She said the chimp combed her hair each night and slept in her bed.

Herold speculated that Travis was being protective of her when he attacked Nash, who she said was driving a different car, wearing a new hairstyle and holding an Elmo stuffed toy in front of her face as a present to the chimp.

Meanwhile, an animal control officer, Lynn DellaBianca, said Thursday she spoke to Herold in 2003 after Travis escaped Herold's vehicle and frolicked in downtown Stamford traffic. DellaBianca, who ran Stamford's animal shelter at the time, said she warned Herold that the pet's behavior was worrisome and that she needed to make sure he was kept under control.

"Certainly my concern was for public safety," DellaBianca told The Associated Press. "Male chimpanzees, once they reach maturity, can be aggressive. I'm sure I did express that to her."

Herold said she expected to eventually have to give up the chimp, DellaBianca said.

"She did say that herself. She knew someone day he would probably have to go to a sanctuary," DellaBianca said. "She knew chimpanzees, they can get more difficult to handle as they get older."

Authorities have not said whether Herold will face criminal charges. State law allowed her to own the 14-year-old chimp as a pet, though several state leaders are calling for tighter restrictions in the wake of the latest attack.

Police are trying to determine why the chimp, a veteran of TV commercials who could dress himself, drink wine from a glass and use the toilet, suddenly attacked.

University of Connecticut researchers performed a necropsy on the chimp, but results aren't expected to be available for several weeks. A test for rabies was negative.

Associated Press reporters Susan Haigh in Hartford, Ted Shaffrey in Stamford and Jason Bronis in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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