Niagara Gazette

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November 6, 2013

DELUCA: Prestis mourn loss of Charlie the Chimp, carry on with animal sanctuary work

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette —

"When we got got there, the man opened the door and this little ball of fur came running at me and dove right on my chest," Carmen said. "I just fell in love with him."

Charlie was for sale, but the price was sky high — $25,000, which the young couple certainly did not have. Carmen was 25 and Christie was only 22. "Who has $25,000 at that time in their life?" he asked me.  

I was surprised when Carmen told me that it was Nancy Garra, a woman I wrote about recently in this space, who believed in the Prestis and helped them get the money to buy Charlie. Nancy, a Niagara Falls banker who died of cancer this past year, was beloved by many in this community and theirs is a perfect example of lives she touched with her kindness and support.

The Prestis shared their dream with Nancy — about how they hoped to use Charlie to start a business teaching people about primates — and she thought the idea was sound enough to fund. So, Charlie came home to Niagara Falls.

Pretty quickly, the chimp found some success in the entertainment business. Among some TV and movies appearances, he was featured in a 2009 “National Geographic” television special highlighting the life of Carmen and his primates, and emphasizing the devotion it takes to care for adult chimpanzees. 

None of it's been easy. The Prestis have no children. Their lives are wrapped up in the primates they care for — including about 30 monkeys, mostly rescues — but their devotion to their animals is clear, especially to those in their circle. 

"They went over and above what I would expect anyone to do for an animal," said Dr. Jerome Ulatowski, a local pediatrician who began caring for Charlie when experts advised that the chimp get childhood vaccines to protect him when he was among children. The doc says he took some lumps for tending to a chimp, but "as a caring person, I don't think I would exclude any living being from the opportunity to enjoy a healthy life."  

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