Whiplash is no ordinary cowboy. He’s a monkey, and he rides a dog.
“He’s not just a monkey. He’s a cowboy hero,” said his owner Kenny Petet.
But Whiplash’s performance this weekend at the Xcel Energy Center with the World’s Toughest Rodeo is drawing opposition from animal welfare activists. The Minnesota Federated Humane Societies wrote a letter to the city on Monday opposing the show.
The capuchin from Stephenville, Texas, has visited the Twin Cities before. In 2009 he was knighted by the St. Paul Winter Carnival Royalty. He is more famous for his starring role in a Taco John’s commercial several years ago.
But the 27-year-old entertainer’s act alarmed some local audience members, prompting a call to the MFHS earlier this week. Whiplash rides on border collies that can run as fast as 30 miles per hour, and advocates were concerned he was tethered to the dog or at risk for a traumatic brain injury.
The MFHS investigated the anonymous tip and decided to contact the city, said Timothy Shields, the organization’s lawyer.
“It seems to us that, if everything alleged is true, it is certainly an act intended to produce animal cruelty,” Shields said. “All we’re asking the city to do is their jobs and look into this.”
No law broken
Samuel J. Clark, the St. Paul city attorney, said the letter didn’t ask the city to step in, but only requested that Whiplash not be allowed to perform if they found proof of animal cruelty.
“I have not heard anything further regarding the group’s investigation,” Clark said in a statement to the Star Tribune. “The City does not operate the arena or choose the events that take place there.”
Clark added that “if anyone has proof that the state’s animal cruelty laws are being broken they should contact the police.”
Keith Streff, the senior humane agent for the Animal Humane Society’s Humane Investigations team, said no laws are being broken.
“Good ol’ Whiplash. If there’s a violation of law and probable cause to support it, we would get involved,” Streff said. “As of now, it’s an ideological issue, not a legal issue, and there’s nothing we can do about that.”
The Humane Society of the United States released a fact sheet opposing cowboy monkey acts.
“Although marketed as an ‘amusement’ act, many people find this show offensive and upsetting as they recognize that it is undoubtedly frightening and harmful to the helpless monkeys who may suffer psychological distress and risk serious physical injuries,” the Humane Society wrote.
Whiplash has been performing since he was 2 years old, balancing himself by wrapping his tail around the dog to keep steady, Petet said.
As for the protest, Petet said, “I think a lot of it comes from his name, Whiplash. There was a rodeo announcer who said, ‘That dog’s going so fast, I hope that monkey don’t get whiplash.’ The name just stuck.
“I’m not going to subject him to anything where I know he’s going to get hurt,” he said.
Petet said Whiplash loves performing.
“They’ve gotta like what they do,” he said. “There’s no use forcing him. If he didn’t want to ride, he’d get off the dog.”
Zoë Peterson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.