Blaze consumes cage, monkey escapes unscathed thanks to dog.
BULLS GAP, Tenn. (WJHL) – Early Tuesday morning, Lisa Meyer was awoken to every monkey owner’s nightmare: the shed that Griffin, her macaque, was living in was burning to the ground.
Roger Reed — who lives with Meyer — was woken up by her dog, Geisha, who led him outside to see that the hand-built enclosure that housed the 22-year-old macaque was ablaze, with flames licking the tree limbs high overhead.
“I was asleep in the recliner,” Meyer said. “And he yelled ‘Get up, Griffin’s cage is on fire!'”
At first, they thought Griffin was gone.
“He looked, and said there’s nothing you can do, he’s gone,” Meyer said, tearing up at the memory. “And that was the end of me, I was a puddle.”
In the corner of his enclosure, however, Reed spotted Griffin running back and forth trying to get out. They couldn’t go in through the burning shed, so Reed had to open a hole in his cage with bolt cutters to get him away from the flames. Griffin’s playground equipment had melted from the heat just feet away, but thanks to Geisha’s alert he was uninjured.
A Bulls Gap Fire Department crew was quick to arrive at the scene, Reed said, but the damage had already been done. Griffin’s shed was destroyed.
Meyer said she believed the fire was started by rats that chewed through power cables to one of several devices for the monkeys.
“It had to be electrical,” Meyer said. “There was a fan running and a radio running, other than that I have a timer for the lights to go out at a certain time of night. They’ve got TVs but the antennas aren’t right so they’re not turned on and watching those.”
Now she’s worried that Mazie, her other macaque, is at risk.
“I have housing inside to put them back in there,” Meyer said. “But they’ve been without diapers probably three years now. I don’t know with my back if I could do all it takes to have them inside.”
This isn’t Meyer’s first circus, however. She’s had several monkeys over the course of many years, peaking at a total of six in her home. All of her monkeys are rehomes or rescues, and she said her love of the creatures began at an early age.
“My parents bought me a monkey for my 10th birthday,” Meyer said. “Unfortunately she was sick when we bought her and she only lived a month. It’s all I’ve ever wanted was a monkey. It took me 28 years.”
Her first was Calvin, a macaque that lived with her for years before passing away of natural causes. Several of her rehomed monkeys suffered from diabetes, which Meyer said can arise in captivity.
Griffin’s enclosure was one of several throughout the Whitaker Road house that Meyer lives at, and Reed said years ago several of them could be seen riding Big Wheels children’s toys around the property before they were rehomed or passed away.
“You get one monkey,” Meyer said. “And they just keep coming.”
An important part of owning an exotic pet is ensuring that you’re doing right by the law as well as the animal, and Meyer said she’s never had a problem.
“In the state of Tennessee, unless things have changed, you have to be licensed for your bigger primates,” Meyer said. “Your gibbons, your apes, chimpanzees. The smaller monkeys you don’t. Now if I had ten or so, they might consider me a rescue and I would need to get certain permits.”
While it may be legal, Meyer said it isn’t a good idea for everyone. Most monkeys change quite a bit when they become adults, and she said getting an adult monkey can be dangerous for the inexperienced.