South Florida

That ‘emotional support’ peacock has a colorful origin — with South Florida roots

Dexter the peacock at Newark International Airport — where his worldwide infamy as an “emotional support peacock” began in January.
Dexter the peacock at Newark International Airport — where his worldwide infamy as an “emotional support peacock” began in January. Instagram

Naturally, the emotional support peacock that was denied boarding on a United Airlines flight in January has a South Florida connection.

Dexter the peacock, who has his own Instagram account and more than 12,000 followers, was bought for a Select Art Fair installation during Art Basel three years ago by New York artist Ventiko before the bird flew airlines. Or tried to.

On Friday, Miami’s New Times discovered a story from The Bushwick Daily that was published in 2015 and told of the peacock’s colorful origin.

In an interview with Bushwick Daily, Ventiko, dubbed a “weird pet owner” in a “proudly weird” suburb in Brooklyn where “weird people keep weird pets,” said she bought a pair of peacocks for her multi-sensory installation, “On Beauty,” during Art Basel in Miami Beach in December 2014.

The project, Ventiko explained, focused on “ethereal and carnal beauty … embracing voyeurism, the human form, perversion of art history symbolism and iconography inspired by the flora and fauna of Florida.”

Of course, Florida.

She decided to feature actual birds and found a couple — Dexter and his mate Etta — on Craigslist, for sale by a Jupiter family. The price was right.

“I found an odd ad that read ‘two Peacocks for $200,’ ” Ventiko said. “What?!! Two living archetypes of beauty — for a total of $200??! Yes please!” she told Bushwick Daily at the time.

Dexter and Ventiko bonded through shared kisses. Etta, not quite as much, though she “seemed to relax a bit,” Ventiko told the paper.

Dexter, who, according to New Times, shared his installation space alongside a sex doll, palm fronds and several semi-nude models, was smitten with his new owner and, apparently, South Beach. Even independent Etta thawed a bit in our parts.

“Throughout the week, Dexter and I walked around both the fair and the street with him in my arms, he sat on me during my artist talk, was a perfect model on set and often snuggled in my neck,” Ventiko told her hometown paper. Bushwick is a suburb of Brooklyn.

Dexter the peacock and Brooklyn artist Ventiko pose for an Instagram shot in November 2017. dexterthepeacock Instagram

After the “On Beauty” installation, Ventiko parted with the winged couple, giving the birds to another artist who lived in North Port, a city in Sarasota County.

Dexter turned his attention to Etta and the seemingly happy couple had some chicks, but one day Etta and the babies disappeared in the woods. They were never found. A despondent Dexter became aggressive and, when the Florida artist could no longer control the sad peacock, he was reunited with Ventiko and lived with her in Bushwick with her two cats and a roommate.

Dexter was happy again with his life up north. “It’s kind of strange that it works so well but rather than question it, I am just accepting the gifts of the universe,” Ventiko told Bushwick Daily.

Then it got really strange.

Despite the bird’s popular Instagram account, which makes him sort of a celebrity in today’s social media-obsessed world, Ventiko tried to bring Dexter on board with her on a United flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Los Angeles. They were turned away after showing up at the airport, despite Ventiko proclaiming Dexter her “emotional support peacock.”

The world was amused, or bemused, and the pair’s would-be adventure became a viral story. The “emotional support” peacock, which followed the story of a Clearwater Beach man who faced eviction from his apartment over his emotional support squirrel in November, also led to changes in the airline industry.

Delta Airlines tightened its rules on emotional support animals. The airline announced in January it will check certification papers for purported service or support animals and their owners before allowing them to board, according to Forbes. The new policy takes effect March 1. United adopted similar rules on Thursday.

Dexter, meanwhile, has had to adapt from wings to wheels as he’s driving around the country with his owner, New Times reported.

The bird has been documenting his travels on Instagram with photos in Indianapolis, making like the Who’s Tommy on a pinball machine in St. Louis, and on the steps of a theater in Oklahoma.

The resourceful bird most recently showed his plumage at the Santa Fe Railyard Park in New Mexico on Thursday.

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