[monkeywire] Profile: Whiplash, the rodeo monkey

Carrie McLaren stay.free at verizon.net
Tue Jul 15 14:31:38 EDT 2003

Monkey Business
By JESSE SCOTT Star-Tribune correspondent

Casper, Wyoming - Tuesday, July 15, 2003 

Whiplash, a 16-year-old Capuchin monkey from Weatherford, Texas, has 
been riding border collies in rodeos across the country since he was 

Tommy Lucia, Whiplash's owner, trainer and surrogate father, and 
Lucia's son, Anthony, travel the country with the motley crew of 
pampered primate, clever collies, and sway-backed stallion, Glory.

"We've had a couple Whiplashes -- it's his stage name," said Tommy. 
"We call him Pistol around the house."

These monkeys are no flash in the 4-H pan; Tommy's supervised, 
climate-controlled and vet-monitored care extends a monkey's 
life-span to three times their natural length, up to 35 years.

The Lucia Review is your typical sheepherding show with a Whiplash 
addition. While Tommy steers one of his border collies, Whiplash, 
dressed as a cowboy in huge white Justin chaps, rides the collie's 
back, wreaking general havoc, much to the pleasure of audience and 
monkey alike.

Tommy said training his collies is an easier business than 
controlling the monkey. Collies have herding in their blood, and 
after months of training, Tommy only occasionally whistles to guide 
the dogs.

"People think you can whip 'em to make them do something," says 
Tommy, becoming visibly upset. "That's stupid. What's whipping gonna 
make them do but run from you? You just have to take them step by 
step, like you would your children."

The collies are less impressed with Whiplash than the audience, 
although Tommy says the dogs rarely seem to notice the seven-pound 
monkey on their backs.

It's only when Whiplash takes herding into his own tiny hands that a 
dog notices him at all.
"He grabs dirt and throws stuff," says Tommy, gesturing his monkey's 
movements. "He'll yell at them now. Especially if the sheep are being 
really jerky -- he'll scream at them."

However, dog and monkey generally get on well. Tommy says there's no 
hierarchy between the family's horses, dogs, cats and monkeys.

"We introduce them very slowly, let them grow accustomed to one 
another," explains Tommy. "You give animals a chance to figure things 
out, and help them along, it makes it a lot easier."

He may be just another one of the family pets, but Whiplash is 
impossible to get an interview with. The monkey's celebrity life has 
confirmed what Tommy has always known: that monkeys and humans don't 
get along.

"They still have the wild in them, and they can turn on you," he says.

Years ago, Tommy accepted invitations on Late Night with David 
Letterman and the Daily Show, performed for royalty like Prince 
Ranier of Monaco and later Princess Stephanie, and met celebrities 
for post-show drinks in enclosed dressing rooms.

Those days of meeting and greeting are over. It was obvious Whiplash 
was overwhelmed by the experiences.

"I don't want him to be upset because of some silly movie producer," 
said Tommy, explaining why Whiplash no longer does television or 
commercials. "I don't want him to go through it; it's not worth it."

Now Tommy confines Whiplash to show arenas and moving around the 
country in the backseat of the Lucia family pickup.

"He's pretty much, I guess you'd say, part of the family," said 
Tommy. He shakes his head describing how attached the family has 
become to Whiplash.

Tommy still keeps Whiplash in a cage when he's not performing. The 
idea of giving Whiplash free range of the house makes Tommy laugh.

"Left alone? A mess? Why, he'd destroy it," said Tommy. "He would 
figure how to take everything out of the cupboard in three seconds, 
grab the sheets ... you know, that's the way they are -- mischievous."

Even in the cage, Whiplash can be a handful.

"He'll raise Cain in there. ... He's a primate. He likes to have a 
little fun, and his fun is chewing and tearing things up," Tommy said.

It's hard to say who enjoys performing more, Whiplash causing chaos 
center-stage, or Tommy looking on.

"Money's a game, we all have to make a living. But if I did this for 
actual money, I'd do something else," said Tommy. "The greatest 
thrill for me is when the animals go out there and perform so well 
for the audience. It's like I'm not there -- it's like you're proud 
of your son."

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