"I Didn't Give Him Xanax" Chimp Owner Says

Crazed chimp mauled woman's friend

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    Travis, the 175-pound chimpanzee kept as a pet, was shot and killed by a police officer Monday, Feb. 16, 2009 after it attacked a woman visiting its owners' home.

    The owner of a 200-pound domesticated chimpanzee that went berserk and mauled a Connecticut woman is disputing police reports that she gave the animal the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

    Sandra Herold tells The Associated Press that she ``never, ever'' gave the drug to her 14-year-old chimp Travis. The animal on Monday attacked Herold's friend, 55-year-old Charla Nash, leaving her with critical injuries to her face and hands.
        
    Police have said that Herold told them that she gave Travis Xanax earlier on Monday to calm him because he was agitated. In humans Xanax can cause memory loss, lack of coordination, reduced sex drive and other side effects.
        
    What Herold told the AP condradicts what she said in an interview aired Wednesday morning on NBC television that she gave Travis the drug in some tea less than five minutes before he attacked Nash — she even showed a reporter the mug. Police have said Herold told them that she gave Travis Xanax that had not been prescribed for him earlier on Monday to calm him because he was agitated.

    In humans, Xanax can lead to aggression in people who are unstable to begin with, said Dr. Emil Coccaro, chief of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

    "Xanax could have made him worse," if human studies are any indication, Coccaro said.

    The chimpanzee's rampage forced Herold to stab her beloved pet with a butcher knife and pound him with a shovel. Herold's voice was filled with fear and horror in emergency hot line tapes released by police Tuesday night.

    Meanwhile, Police have said they are looking into the possibility of criminal charges. A pet owner can be held criminally responsible if he or she knew or should have known that an animal was a danger to others.

    Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday that a defect in Connecticut's laws allowed Herold to keep the chimp in her home, probably illegally. There are rules requiring large primates to be registered by the state, but officials have some discretion in enforcing them and violations carry only minor penalties, he said.

    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.

    "She had the toy in front of her. This was just a freak thing," Herold said.

    Authorities 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. A test for rabies was negative, Stamford police Capt. Richard Conklin said Wednesday.

    Travis appeared in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola when he was younger, and at home he was treated like a member of the family. Don Mecca, a family friend, said Herold fed the chimp steak, lobster, ice cream and Italian food.

    Primate experts say chimpanzees are unpredictable and dangerous even after living among humans for years, but in her NBC interview, Herold rejected criticism that they are inappropriate pets.

    "It's a horrible thing, but I'm not a horrible person and he's not a horrible chimp." she said.