When Zoe turned 1, her mother invited all her friends for a party on the patio at a nearby restaurant. She decorated the space with red and white balloons and ordered a vanilla cake with a picture of a monkey on top.
Zoe, dressed in a red-and-white party dress, sat at the head of the table and soaked up the attention.
Zoe is a White Tufted Marmoset, a tiny monkey weighing less than 2 pounds.
I don’t want to press charges. I just want the monkey back.
Vanessa Di Gennaro, who adopted Zoe when she was four weeks old
“She is like my baby,” said Vanessa Di Gennaro, who adopted Zoe when she was only four weeks old from a Davie breeder. She carried her under her shirt for six months “because they can’t regulate their temperature.”
Now her baby is gone. Di Gennaro, who hand-fed Zoe ripe bananas and bought her custom-made dresses, says her neighbor stole her and sold her for $900. The neighbor now faces a charge of grand theft.
“I don’t want to press charges,” she said. “I just want the monkey back.”
On Friday night, Di Gennaro, who is eight months pregnant, was cleaning her trailer home inside the Aquarius Mobile Home & RV Park in Homestead when she put Zoe outside on a leash.
As she cleaned, she could hear Zoe “singing and chirping.”
“She sounds like a bird,” she said.
Then the singing stopped. Concerned, Di Gennaro walked outside and she saw the leash, but no Zoe.
She spent the whole night into Saturday morning walking her neighborhood, screaming Zoe’s name and whistling.
On Saturday, she passed out fliers offering a $1,000 reward. Then she got a call from another neighbor telling her that someone in a home two lots down had her baby. She quickly went to investigate.
“He said he didn’t know what I was talking about,” she said.
But Di Gennaro secured a video taken by the person who saw the monkey in the man’s trailer. After he continued to deny having Zoe, Di Gennaro turned to Homestead police.
Police came out Sunday to speak to her neighbor, Oscar Leiva, 21. Leiva told police he saw Zoe in his kitchen and he thought she was a rat and caught it. He then realized it was a monkey and put it in a cage, an officer wrote in a report.
He told police he fell asleep and the monkey escaped. But the same person who told Di Gennaro about the video told police that Leiva sold the monkey for $900.
Leiva was arrested and charged with grand theft and is being held in Miami-Dade’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on a $5,000 bond.
Lleiva’s arrest doesn’t bring Di Gennaro comfort. Instead, she is worried that the person who has Zoe won’t know how to handle her and may feed her “toxic” food including onions.
Di Gennaro said she is offering a $2,000 reward for Zoe’s safe return. If you have information, call 305-321-1123.
“I don’t care how the person got her,” she said. “I just want her back in one piece.”