Barn Buddies Presented By Doc’s Products, Inc.: Gemma Is A Monkey About Town

by | 03.13.2018 | 12:51pm
Pompay with Gemma

“That's her at the barn eating a donut … that's her at the starting gate at Gulfstream. There she is at the barn. She comes to my office with me, but sometimes she takes off running into the barn if she sees someone she knows.”

Trainer Terri Pompay is swiping through the photos on her phone and it's hard not to notice that one face keeps coming up. It's not one of her horses, a favorite dog or a human friend.

It's Gemma the spider monkey.

“She goes to Rocco's Tacos, she goes to Anthony's Pizza. If I don't bring her, they get mad at me. She sits at the bar and eats salad and meatballs. She's very cool,” Pompay said. “When we go through the drive through at Starbucks, she likes the lemon loaf and when she sees me going there she squeaks with delight.”

Who doesn't squeak with delight at the prospect of a lemon loaf slice?

Dale Romans and Gemma swap stories by the rail at Gulfstream

Gemma is nearly two years old and very bonded to Pompay, frequently accompanying her to morning training at Gulfstream.

In addition to Gemma, who weighs about seven pounds, Pompay breeds and sells smaller marmosets and tamarins, which top out at one pound each. She estimates she has between 50 and 60 of the smaller monkeys, which are housed in a custom-built barn with several large indoor/outdoor enclosures full of toys while she's at work. When she's home, the monkeys can be let loose in the house and barn or walk around on her shoulder.

Gemma goofs around with one of Pompay's staff

Pompay used to raise birds and was at a pet fair in New Jersey years ago when she first saw a tamarin and decided she had to have one of her own. Raising the small monkeys is labor-intensive; some species make better parents than others. Some are known to toss babies soon after giving birth and in Pompay's experience, marmosets will raise two babies and throw or otherwise sabotage a third if they have triplets. She hand-raises the rest, wrapping them in towels or tucking them into bags slung on her shoulder and feeding them every few hours.

Fellow patrons of the grocery stores where Pompay shops probably think she's the healthiest person they've ever seen. She buys huge quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables and chops three days' worth of food at a time for the monkeys. She mixes rice cereal in for some variety and hires help to make sure all of them get their nutritious meals three times a day while she works. That's on top of feeding Gemma, who needs some help to eat, as spider monkeys do not have thumbs and therefore have some difficulty holding small items. (Spider monkeys gradually evolved without thumbs because their natural state swinging through trees did not require them.)

Gemma gives instructions to an exercise rider during morning training

Monkeys also must receive considerable social interaction to keep them stimulated, and Pompay says they do best in domestic situations if they meet their human while they are still young. They're not the right pet for everyone but with her ability to take Gemma to and from work on most days, Pompay is able to keep her busy and happy. Spider monkeys are not typically litter box or toilet-trained, and instead Gemma wears a diaper on her outings with Pompay.

“She loves coming to work with me,” said Pompay. “If I leave her at home she sulks. The horses are not afraid of her at all, even with all her antics.”

All 50 of the monkeys in Pompay's care are named and their bloodlines maintained to avoid interbreeding. Pompay knows every one of their quirks and health histories by memory. Part of her job as a breeder also requires Pompay to know state laws regarding domestic monkeys. Some states require a special license to have a spider monkey like Gemma, but not the smaller tamarins and marmosets. Some do not allow them at all. In Florida, Pompay is required to have a license for Gemma requiring an extensive application, demonstration of knowledge and experience of Gemma's needs and references from veterinarians or university experts.

Pompay admits Gemma and her troop of smaller monkeys are a lot of work but for her, they're well worth it. She hopes to one day scale back her horse training operation and focus on life at the farm – which will include a lot of time with the monkeys.

“I enjoy feeding the little babies. Right now, it's just a hobby but it kind of went crazy.”

  • Mary Darden McLeod

    Excellent essay, Natalie! Gemma sounds like quite a girl who loves interspecies interactions. Best of luck, Terri, with all that you do!!! You and Emma share quite a bond. xoxo to ALL, Mary in Boone

  • Rachel

    marmosets, tamarins, spider monkeys, & birds really shouldn’t be pets, or in zoos, they belong in the wild, they aren’t domesticated, they don’t want to be with us, we can’t possibly provide a like environment to their wild area & social interaction with others of their own kinds, to breed them for sale as pets is really disgusting, no matter how well she claims to care for and about them

  • Rachel

    “Monkeys also must receive considerable social interaction to keep them stimulated, and Pompay says they do best in domestic situations if they meet their human while they are still young.”
    so as to create a Stockhom Syndrome in the animal – you’re all I’ve got, I’m completely dependent on you, my love for you isn’t true, it’s just complete dependence – sad

  • Rachel

    frankly, I can’t believe, for insurance liability and disease reasons, that she’s allowed to bring her monkey to the racetrack (her horses may be used to them, but what about others’? the first time someone’s million-dollar-baby freaks out, dumps the rider, runs off, and fatally hurts themselves, look out), or into stores or restaurants, don’t they have health codes in Florida?

    • HappyHarriet

      How many lemons did you have for breakfast this morning, I wonder?

      • cgriff

        Actually, it’s a legitimate question and one I’d considered reading it. And I only had an egg and cheese bagel for breakfast. When does a reasoned question equal accusations of sourness, anyway?

        • nybredfilly96

          I happen to love monkeys (2nd to dogs and horses) and although I appreciate the story and would enjoy seeing it I had the same thoughts as well.

  • Rachel

    “Spider monkeys are not typically litter box or toilet-trained, and instead Gemma wears a diaper on her outings with Pompay.”
    so the poor animal has to wallow in her own mess until she’s changed (at least with human babies, this only lasts a limited time, for the monkeys, it’s for life)? and wearing clothing is totally natural for her, as well *rolls eyes*

  • Rachel

    “I enjoy feeding the little babies. Right now, it’s just a hobby but it kind of went crazy.”
    the babies are adorable, and that’s the problem, as happened with Pompay at the ‘pet fair,’ people (most likely young people & women, I’m guessing) will see the babies, and fall in love, not realizing (or caring?) that this is a long commitment, and they won’t always be that cute

    • oh_yes_yes_yes

      We had a neighbor who loved kittens. Cats, not so much. She would care for the kittens and soon the neighborhood was over run with at least 35 adult cats that were shunned. The baby thing is an irresponsible phenomenon.

  • Rachel

    “She hopes to one day scale back her horse training operation and focus on life at the farm”
    translation – there’s more money in selling monkeys as pets, than in race horse training

  • WT61

    Wow, so many haters with negative comments. Terri obviously has extensive knowledge caring for these animals and is well qualified to have them. It’s not easy getting an exotic license in Florida. I’ve gone through the process myself. If you want to hate on someone, how about the backyard/puppy mill breeders?

    • ziggypop

      Monkeys are wild animals and dressing them up like friggen dolls and selling them like puppies is not ok, on any level. The are not native species and have no business being human entertainment.

      • Rachel

        “not native species”
        excellent point! wonder how many of the monkeys she sells (whether or not she sells with a ‘right of first refusal,’ should the buyer no longer want the animal, or, if she asks/requires photos & updates, to make sure the animal is “okay”) will end up being ‘turned loose,’ to fend for themselves, if, or, more likely, *when* they become too much to handle, or ‘not fun to care for anymore,’ or are no longer ‘cute babies’? they’ll most likely either die from starvation or exposure, and/or cause problems for the native species in the area…Everglades pythons, anyone?

      • Rachel

        “not native species”
        also, on that, it should be noted that, while Ms. Pompay now has a personal supply of breeding stock of spider monkeys, marmosets, & tamarins, being non-native, it should be remembered that her animals’ forebearers were stolen from the wild, often as babies, straight from their mothers’ arms (the mother is often killed & eaten), and shipped (possibly smuggled in horrid conditions) to the US, surely a terrifying & traumatizing event for the babies, so, while someone buying from her can minimize their guilt by buying from a US-based supplier, even doing that, is supporting the poaching of wild animals

    • Rachel

      if she truly had ‘extensive knowledge’ and cared about these creatures, she would realize and understand that, no matter how much she (& others) like them, they shouldn’t be pets….if she wants to care for them, she should donate to reserves where they are protected in the wild, or to people researching them *in the wild*, in hopes of learning more & being able to better protect them, and their habitat…then, to get her ‘fix’ of seeing them, watch a wildlife documentary and buy a stuffed animal version to cuddle!
      …and believe me, I have plenty of hate & revulsion for puppy mills & backyard breeders, I can walk & chew gum at the same time…and, frankly, with over 50 monkeys she’s breeding for sale, she basically is a ‘monkey mill’

  • HorseWhisperer2000

    Wow! This is a great article!

  • Marlaine Meeker

    Sorry folks but I am with Rachel on this one.

    • Rachel

      thank you :)

  • thisismyonlypostonthesubject

    I’m at a loss; I really am.

    Someone please educate me. I am serious. I am not trying to be inflammatory. If you want a pet–why is it you need a monkey? How many people are prepared in all the ways necessary to give one of these animals an appropriate home?

  • oh_yes_yes_yes

    For a good look on this issue of wild animals as pets, one should watch “One Lucky Elephant”. Keeping and training wild animals is just one more way that we flatter ourselves that we can be good as god.

  • Megan

    I really love the “barn buddies” column and hope to see more of them, but this one needs a caveat.

    Monkeys are wild animals that, on an individual basis, can be (somewhat, and for a certain amount of time) tamed. They are NOT domesticated animals like the dogs, cats, mini horses, goats, and even chickens and turkeys, that we’ve seen in previous columns.

    At two years old, Gemma is still a juvenile. She’s cute and tractable now, but in a couple of years she will reach sexual maturity and be very strong for her size – what then? She will (will, guaranteed) become aggressive, sexual, possessive of her owner, and dangerous around other humans.

    And sadly, because Gemma has bonded to a human and never learned how to behave around other monkeys of her own species, it would be extremely difficult (perhaps impossible) to safely integrate her into a community of other members of her own species, should her owner decide to rehome her.

    Finally… geeze… Doughnuts, tacos, meatballs, and lemon loaf (really?) are incredibly inappropriate foods for monkeys… especially when you consider that, in the wild, these animals are in constant motion, foraging for food that is high in fiber and low in caloric density. (Also, Gemma wouldn’t “need help to eat” if she were in the wild, eating a species-appropriate diet.)

    • Rachel

      all excellent points!

  • Ross Black Isle and Dublin

    I really don’t understand what the big deal is about… I see these fuzzy guys at the race track all the time. They’re usually reading the racing form…

  • Karlene-Karly Placke-Thralls

    There sure is a lot of negativity in these comments! What DO you like? I love horse racing and I know Terry Pompay is a very conscientious, caring, loving provider for these monkeys! Great article!

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