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What animals can be pets? (Don’t read this, IKEA monkey!)

Darwin, the monkey is pictured in this handout photo taken by Toronto Animal Services, December 10, 2012. The stylishly dressed five-month old monkey that caused a frenzy as it wandered around the parking lot of a Toronto-area Ikea store will be transferred to a sanctuary, officials said on Monday. Police were called to the furniture store on Sunday afternoon in Canada's most populous city after the monkey broke loose from its cage and began running around a parking area.

Reuters

IKEA monkey, what would you do?

A proposed bylaw in Oshawa, Ont., is redefining the meaning of a pet, and the safety concerns about just what kind of animals should be owned by humans. It doesn't look good for hedgehogs.

Oshawa's extensive list of what is and what isn't considered a pet – pigs, no; metre-long lizard, yes – raises questions about domesticity and the animal/human connection. (Can you really have a bond with a tarantula? It's on the city's expert-reviewed list.)

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The question of whether an exotic animal can really be happy in a human home has been a hot topic since Darwin, the tiny monkey in a well-tailored, faux-shearling jacket made headlines. The baby monkey was found wandering an IKEA parking lot in Toronto on Sunday, and was eventually taken to Story Book Farm's primate sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont.

"I believe he loves her, and she loves him, absolutely" Leslie Barrett, Darwin's barn manager, says of the now-famous monkey and his bond with his previous owner. "I wish love was enough – it's not."

At seven months old, Darwin weighs just one pound. But when he is fully grown, he will have "large canine teeth, sharp claws and huge strength," Barrett says. "And monkeys are so highly intelligent that you can't keep them in a home, in a cage, and have them be happy."

She says primates can become aggressive and violent, and even kill their owners – whom they love. When kept as pets, monkeys act out in boredom-associated behaviours because they lack the socialization, mental stimulation and exercise they need.

There is no federal law in Canada on which exotic animals can be deemed pets – and legislation varies greatly across the country, with British Columbia one of the few provinces with a ban on specific species.

For example, Darwin's previous owner, Yasmin Nakhuda, has said she bought him in Montreal, where bylaws are unclear about monkey pet ownership. A quick Google search reveals many sellers offering monkeys like Darwin in various Montreal neighbourhoods.

Still, several campaigns have been started online to "Free Darwin," by those who insist that the monkey needs to be reunited with Nakhuda.

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Online commenters have been divided on what makes a pet – and what is best for Darwin. "He needs some time with his old owners to ease the transition," one person wrote on The Globe and Mail's website. "If you believe these animals are any less sensitive to change than a lot of children, you are only fooling yourself. This is a very emotionally complex little guy."

Still, in three years, Darwin will be 50 times his current size – something his human "mom" may not have considered, Barrett says. "Can a 50-pound monkey kill you? Absolutely."

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About the Author
Editor in the Opinion section

Amberly McAteer is an editor in the Opinion section at The Globe and Mail. She has been a homepage editor, online editor and community editor in Features - including Life, Travel, Style, Arts and Books. She's written columns about her quest to run a 10K and find the perfect dog. More

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