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Dog-riding rodeo monkey riles Minnesota animal-rights group

FILE PHOTO -- Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey and his border collie mount work with trainer Tommy Lucia during a demonstration before a weekend of professional rodeo competition at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Friday, Jan. 23, 2004. (Pioneer Press: Joe Oden)

Marino Eccher

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota animal-rights group is calling for “Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey” — a dog-riding, sheep-herding entertainment act — to be pulled from a weekend rodeo at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, claiming the event puts the creature at serious risk and might run afoul of the state’s animal-cruelty laws.

Whiplash’s owner and veterinarian say those concerns are unfounded. In spite of his name, they said, the monkey isn’t in danger and receives excellent care.

The 27-year-old Capuchin monkey has been trained to ride a border collie since he was 2 years old, said owner Kenny Petet of Stephenville, Texas. He’s risen to fame here and elsewhere, earning knighthood at the St. Paul Winter Carnival in 2009 and starring in a Taco John’s commercial.

The monkey is slated to perform as part of the World’s Toughest Rodeo on Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Center. The Minnesota Federated Humane Societies, which investigates reports of animal cruetly, voiced opposition this week.

The group said it acted on complaints the monkey is “constantly subjected to g-forces that could cause concussion and whiplash” amid that act’s high speeds and sudden stops, starts and turns.

Timothy Shields, general counsel for MFHS, said the group consulted with a handful of veterinarians who agreed the act could cause head trauma.

The group said it sent letters Monday to Mayor Chris Coleman and St. Paul City Attorney Samuel Clark, saying the group was investigating the claims and would ask for the city to halt the act if they proved true.

Clark said he didn’t hear further from the group on the investigation. He said that although the city owns the Xcel Energy Center, it doesn’t have power over programming.

If “anyone has proof that the state’s animal cruelty laws are being broken,” he said in an email to the Pioneer Press, “they should contact the police.”

Petet, who bought Whiplash four years ago from a friend, said the complaint, like others in the past, was made without calling to ask him or check with the monkey’s veterinarian.

He said Whiplash gets “the very best vet care” and “loves to ride that dog.”

“That’s what he’s been doing his whole life,” Petet said. “Once the lights go on, he gets to grinning.”

One of MFHS’ complaints was that Whiplash appeared to be tied or harnessed onto the dog. Petet said that’s not that case — Whiplash is trained to hold on himself. Petet said he once turned down a show because of a requirement that Whiplash would be tied to the dog.

“If he doesn’t want to do something, he don’t do it,” Petet said.

Whiplash is also heavily regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Petet said. Beyond that, he said the monkey is “part of our family,” down to having his own room in the house.

“I’m never going to do anything that’s going to hurt him or hurt the dogs,” he said.

Dr. Joe Cannon, Whiplash’s veterinarian for nearly two decades, said Whiplash is “extremely healthy” — and plenty limber and agile to handle the act.

“His whole body shifts one way or another, but there’s no actual impact,” Cannon said. “I certainly don’t feel there’s any issues with him.”

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.