Everyone knows the story of Travis the 200-pound chimp – a beloved pet turned violent. It’s been over a year now since Travis mauled Charla Nash, his owner Sandra Herold’s friend, and the hype surrounding the tragic story has not disappeared.
The Connecticut story quickly became a national story. In November, Nash first revealed her face on Oprah. The gruesome attack left her with no nose, and no eyes. Then surly the racy FX show, “Nip Tick” based an episode off of the ordeal.
But a big part of the story has been left out of the media buzz. Earlier this month, the police officer who had to shoot and kill Travis the chimp was denied compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder because compensation is only awarded to an officer who has to kill a human. However, to Stamford officer Frank Chiafari, the incident was just as disturbing as if he had killed a human – and he opened up to the New York Times on the subject for the first time.
Travis the 14-year-old chimp spent his life living more like a human than an animal. He ate steak, drank wine, appeared in Old Navy and Coca-Cola commercials, and even drank Xanax the day he lost control. So it’s no surprise that Chiafari and other locals thought of him almost as a child rather than a pet.
“When I saw him, he was small and cute and friendly — he’d wave at you. Who would have ever thought when we were playing together, we’d have this incident 15 years later?” Chiafari told the New York Times.
Ever since that day, Chiafari’s fond memories of Travis have been replaced by the images of blood and gore that he witnessed in the Herold driveway. He tells the Times that he suffered from depression and anxiety.
“I’d go to the mall and see women and imagine them without faces,” he said. He also avoids coverage of the incident, and cannot watch shows about similar attacks. It’s safe to assume he did not watch the Nip Tuck episode
and he declined to appear in a reenactment of the attack on Animal Planet.
Eventually the city of Stamford awarded Chiafari the compensation he sought for his visits to the therapist.
State Senator Andrew J. McDonald has introduced legislation that would cover an officer’s claims for mental or emotional impairment when officers use deadly force on animals that attempt to injure them.
Chiafari plans to testify on Thursday before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, which is considering the bill.
However, the image of Nash’s mauled body still haunts him, and he is able to recall the event in vivid detail. When he pulled up to the Herold house on Feb. 16, 2009, he tells the Times, he saw “a lump of clothing in the driveway.”
“Then I realized it’s a human being,” he said. “It was all ripped apart.”
Chiafari goes on to tell the whole gruesome tale from the blood he saw “pulsating” out of Nash’s face, to the traumatizing realization that he had to kill the animal that seemed so much like a part of the community. He told the Times that Travis ripped the door off his police car, and came face-to-face with him. “Our eyes met,” he said.
“He gave me a split second to react,” Chiafari said. “He shows his teeth, a snarl, and I see blood. I see his fangs. I just start to shoot.”
Chiafari said he knew he did the only thing he could to save Nash’s life, but it was as early as the next morning that the depression set in. And it’s still hard for him, but Chiafari said he tries to remain as positive as he can. He told the Times, he even hopes to one day be mentally strong enough to meet Nash.
The one thing he is sure of, though, is that he does not blame Travis for the horrible attack that affected his and so many other lives.
“I consider him a victim,” he told Times. “He should have been in the jungle where he’s supposed to be. Not in a house drinking wine and taking Xanax.”
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Published at 10:43 AM EST on Feb 25, 2010
Copyright Associated Press / NBC Connecticut