Toronto Animal Services scooped up the monkey named Darwin when the animal was found wandering around a Toronto Ikea parking lot in December wearing a faux-shearling coat.
Yasmin Nakhuda, who was fined $240 for breaking the city's prohibited animals bylaw, told a court today that the primate she obtained last July had grown attached to her and often slept in her bed. The civil trial is a battle over Darwin's living arrangements.
CBC's Aarti Pole, reporting outside the Oshawa courthouse, said Nakhuda told the court that her time raising Darwin gave her the opportunity to experience motherhood again.
"She does have two other children, but she says that Darwin was part of their family, part of the family home, a part of her," Pole reported, adding that Nakhuda "did become very emotional two times during her testimony today."
The animal was sent to Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., about 100 kilometres northeast of Toronto. Nakhuda has been fighting to get Darwin back ever since.
She has already tried unsuccessfully to have the monkey returned on an interim basis.
Nakhuda alleges animal services officers tricked her into surrendering her monkey and says she is willing to move her family to a jurisdiction that allows pet monkeys if she gets him back.
The four-day trial is set to be heard over the last two days in May as well as June 10 and 11.
As the judge who has heard the interim motions made clear, the case is not a custody battle, since Darwin is not a child. Rather, Nakhuda is asking for an order to recover possession of personal property.
Coerced to give up beloved pet
Nakhuda has argued that she was coerced into signing over ownership of the monkey because she feared that she would be facing criminal charges.
The baby monkey captured international attention when he was found at the Ikea, but since then he has become the centre of a hotly contested war of words both online and in court.
"Of course this is a really serious matter for the monkey's owner," Pole reported. "Nakhuda has been [to the animal sanctuary] to visit him, but she says it was a very restricted visitation, and she wasn't too happy with that."
The sanctuary has alleged in court documents that Nakhuda and her family abused Darwin.
"But when the proceedings began today, the defence indicated that they were dropping all allegations of abuse that we've heard over the past few months," Pole said.
'Mommy misses you a lot'
Interest in the case has been huge. Crowds of Nakhuda's supporters as well as people who want to see Darwin remain at the sanctuary forced the trial to move to a larger courtroom.
A Facebook page set up by Nakhuda and her supporters has been home to vicious debates between those who believe Darwin belongs with Nakhuda and those who believe he belongs at the sanctuary.
Nakhuda, a real estate lawyer, has also used social media to post photos and videos of Darwin when she owned him, including her brushing her teeth with Darwin in her arms, Darwin on her back while Nakhuda is on the treadmill, and Darwin bouncing around Nakhuda's office.
On May 1, she posted a birthday message to Darwin on Facebook, saying it was his first birthday.
"Know that your mommy misses you a lot and would have wanted to be with you on this very special day to shower you with her love and kisses," Nakhuda wrote.
"Your mommy has not given up on you, so don't lose hope … we will all be together soon and you will blow your birthday candle with us. Big hugs."