MARGATE, Fla. —These jockeys weigh only 6 pounds, and they’re not riding horses. They’re riding dogs.
Capuchin monkeys Gilligan and Burt and their race dog partners Luna and Ace are the stars of the Banana Derby. The attraction, appearing for the first time at the Broward County Fair in Margate, Fla., has sparked an outcry from animal activists who want the show stopped.
Fans say the show is great comedy, but animal activists are not amused. They say the act is cruel and dangerous for both the dogs and the monkeys.
Owner Phil Hendricks — a former attorney who left the field in 1998 to join the circus — dismisses those claims.
“They said the monkeys are trained to hit and bite the dogs,” he told a South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter. “Total ridiculous nonsense. It’s a loud vocal minority. One person sees the show and says it’s cute, and another person sees the show and says it’s barbaric. They believe you shouldn’t eat meat or even own a pet. A lot of them have good hearts, but they’re misled.”
The monkey jockeys and their canine partners are performing two shows on weekdays and three on weekends through Dec. 5.
“Both the monkeys and the dogs are unwilling participants,” said James Wildman, a spokesman for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. “It’s seen as comical, but there’s nothing comical or funny about it. There’s videos and photos of the monkeys biting and hitting the dogs. And you can see the dogs grimacing in pain.”
The derby dust-up started before the fair opened on Nov. 18.
The night before, Fort Lauderdale activist Ana Campos and primate expert Deborah “Missy” Williams urged Margate commissioners to stop the show. When their appeal failed, other animal groups joined the crusade, including PETA and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.
“It’s a sideshow circus act,” Campos said. “The monkeys are so quick the human eye can’t see the monkey hit and bite the dog. I had to freeze the video to see it. I saw the monkey bite him twice. The dog winces in pain and looks up over his shoulder and takes off running. It’s sick.”
Now, animal activists are planning protests.
On a recent night, Hendricks opened the show with music blaring as a crowd gathered around the makeshift racetrack.
“The derby combines two of America’s favorite animals: the monkey and the dog,” he said before urging the crowd to “make some noise” to encourage the animals.
The two dogs trotted out carrying their jockeys, all dolled up in vibrant costumes. The children screamed and clapped with excitement as the dogs raced around the track.
Coconut Creek mom Rosetta Hassel laughed along with her son and his friends as Ace somehow ended up running the wrong way on the makeshift racetrack.
“The dogs seemed happy as could be,” she said. “I don’t know about the monkeys.”