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  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    The Team Ghost Riders perform part of their act after the fourth inning at last Wednesdays Silver Knights game at Holman Stadium in Nashua. The team also did a performance after the 7th inning and following the end of the game.



  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    The Team Ghost Riders perform part of their act after the fourth inning at last Wednesdays Silver Knights game at Holman Stadium in Nashua. The team also did a performance after the 7th inning and following the end of the game.



  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    The Team Ghost Riders perform part of their act after the fourth inning at last Wednesdays Silver Knights game at Holman Stadium in Nashua. The team also did a performance after the 7th inning and following the end of the game.



  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Tim Lepard of Tupelo, MS gives a kiss for good luck to Bellstar, one of his white-throated capuchin monkeys shortly before their performance at last Wednesdays Silver Knights game at Holman Stadium in Nashua. Looking on is Sam, one of the other monkeys performing in the show.



  • Staff photo by Bruce Preston


    Tim Lepard of Tupelo, MS waits ‘backstage’ for his first performance of the evening with two of his white-throated capuchin monkeys at last Wednesdays Silver Knights game at Holman Stadium in Nashua.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Monkey rodeo lassoes attention

NASHUA – The seats weren’t full at Holman Stadium on Wednesday night, but the folks that were there were amused – most of them anyway. But those chuckles may lighten the wallet of the owner of a unique animal performance group.

At the end of the fourth and seventh innings and again at the end of the Nashua Silver Knights game Tim Lepard and his miniature menagerie – canine, ovine and primate – took to the field for a good old-fashioned monkey rodeo.

That’s right, a monkey rodeo, as in white-throated capuchin monkeys astride a pair of border collies romping about the historic stadium’s outfield grass chasing sheep.

But now that the chuckles have ended, state Fish and Game officials want a word with Lepard because he didn’t have the proper permits from them or the state Department of Agriculture, according to Fish and Game Lt. Robert Bryant.

“He failed to get permits from either the N.H. Department of Agriculture of the Fish and Game Department,” he said.

The fine for the Fish and Game permit violations, of which there are two, could be $1,000 a piece, Bryant said, though likely it won’t be.

Lepard said he’s spent more than 30 years in the rodeo as a clown and bullfighter. He founded Team Ghost Rider in the late 1980s. In the last three years, the show’s popularity has exploded. Now, instead of just performing at rodeos, he’s fielding calls from minor league baseball teams like the Silver Knights, NBA and NFL teams, even professional hockey teams.

The majority of the few hundred fans at Wednesday’s game roared with laughter when Sam and Bell Star, the monkeys, bolted through the right field fence atop Rod and Bob, the dogs, after the fourth inning. They herded a half-dozen sheep around the outfield for about 90 seconds before disappearing to an air-conditioned trailer.

Not everyone thought it was funny though.

Suzanne Fournier, who runs Speaking for Animals in New Hampshire, and other animal-rights activists in the state tried to get the show cancelled by appealing to Silver Knights and Lowell Spinners owner Drew Webber.

“We’ve been encouraging them to cancel the act because of its cruelty,” Fournier said. “They’re whip lashed. It doesn’t appear they’re even holding the reigns. The monkeys are not in control. They’re just being whipped around and whipped around.”

A few animal rights supporters bought tickets to the game and stayed “undercover” and booed and held up signs protesting the show when Lepard took the field with his co-performers.

“We consider it animal abuse. They force the monkeys to do this act,” Linda Dionne, a member of the New Hampshire Animal Rights League, said. “It’s very unnatural. They just shouldn’t be forced to do this type of thing.”

Lepard said the show is nowhere near cruel to the animals. The monkeys are strapped to the dogs and like performing. The monkeys and dogs live together at Lepard’s home in Mississippi, he said. He also said loves them like they are part of the family.

“If these monkeys didn’t want to do it, they wouldn’t,” Lepard said. “We bring them up all together like family. It takes a lot of time and patience and for sure a lot of love. We treat them like us.”

Drew Webber, the Nashua Silver Knights owner, said he’s also an animal lover and just doesn’t agree that the monkey rodeo is cruel to the animals.

“There wouldn’t be kids smiling if they thought there was any animal cruelty. I know I wouldn’t be,” he said. “If you were close, you would absolutely see that it’s not cruel. The monkeys have been pets of this guy for their whole lives.”

Cruel or not, Lepard will be receiving two summonses from N.H. Fish and Game, one for not getting the proper exhibitors permit and the other for allowing a member of the public to touch the monkey, Bryant said. Fournier said she filed a complaint with New Hampshire Fish and Game because she said she saw a Telegraph photographer touch one of the monkeys.

“We don’t take kindly to people just blowing off regulations,” Bryant said. “That’s part of doing business for him.”

An exhibitors permit is required for any show that includes controlled animals, such as monkeys. The state Department of Agriculture, which wasn’t immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon, has separate regulations requiring certain health certifications for animals like sheep and goats coming into the state, Bryant said.

Lepard said he will drive about 120,000 miles this year, performing at a variety of venues, including at Invesco Field in Denver, Colo., for the Dec. 19 Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots game. He’s been shocked at the notoriety his show has received after a YouTube video of one of his shows was viewed by more than 200,000 people about three years ago.

“I never would have thought it’d get to be anything like this,” he said. “I never had any dream to make anything of it. It was just me going out there and doing my job 150 percent.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415, jcote@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Joseph Cote (@Telegraph_JCote) on Twitter.