Legends cancel comedy act featuring monkeys on sheep-herding dogs

meads@herald-leader.comJune 20, 2013 

Animal rights activists were relieved Thursday when the Lexington Legends canceled an unusual comedy act featuring capuchin monkeys dressed as cowboys, riding on the backs of border collies. But the activists said they were disappointed that the act was scheduled in the first place.

The show, which was planned for Thursday night's game against the Savannah Sand Gnats at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, was canceled because of legal issues concerning the monkeys. But after becoming aware of the concerns, Seth Poteat, director of marketing for the Legends, said this was the first time — and probably the last — that the Legends would schedule such an act.

"We got caught up a little bit by the fact that they came so highly recommended that we didn't do our homework," Poteat said of the act performed by Tim "Wild Thang" Lepard and "Team Ghost Riders."

"We'll be more conscious and do our homework going forward," he said.

April Truitt, executive director of the Kentucky Primate Rescue Center, was among those who took issue with the animal performance. Truitt said she was concerned about the crowd because capuchin monkeys are extremely dangerous, with sharp teeth and unpredictable attitudes.

"We are disappointed in the Legends for almost allowing this; they are normally very good about this sort of thing," Truitt said.

The cancellation came a day after the Humane Society of the United States sent Legends president and chief operating officer Andy Shea an email asking the Legends to reconsider. The Humane Society didn't receive a response, said Debbie Leahy, manager of captive wildlife protection at the Humane Society.

Leahy said that one of the Humane Society's main concerns was the well-being of the animals.

"The dogs stop, start, turn, lie down, and stand up abruptly as they herd sheep, causing the monkeys to be violently jerked forwards and backwards and slide wildly from side to side. ... While marketed as entertainment, many people find this show offensive, and it is undoubtedly frightening and harmful to the monkeys," Leahy said in the email.

After reading the letter Thursday, Poteat said, "Obviously, that struck a chord with me."

The Legends ultimately canceled Thursday's act because the proper permits had not been obtained by the people organizing the show. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife prohibits monkeys from entering Kentucky outside of accredited zoos. The animals are illegal in the state because they are considered dangerous, fish and wildlife official Steven Dobie said.

Lepard, the man who puts together the acts, said he did not know he needed the extra permits to have the monkeys in Kentucky. Lepard said he was permitted by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to perform in Louisville last year. However, the department says they have no record of the approval.

For his part, Lepard does not see an issue with the show. He said the animals are "my life, my family" and said the animals enjoy performing.

"If they don't want to do it, they are going to fuss and fight. They don't," Lepard said. "There is no way I would exist this way for 36 years if I was doing something wrong."

Officials with the Humane Society said Lepard's monkeys were strapped in and forced to remain on the dogs. Lepard said that was not true. He said the monkeys sit in specially designed saddles — without straps — that keep them from falling off.

"I don't make them do anything. They ride," Lepard said.

Lepard's show is popular throughout the minor league circuit. In fact, other minor league teams say the act has been a success.

The Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators have hosted the comedy act four times without complaints from animal rights groups, said Sean Purcell, the team's game entertainment coordinator.

"For the most part, people rave about it," Purcell said.

Morgan Eads: (859) 231-3335. Leigh Dannhauser: (859) 231-3447. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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