NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Connecticut woman whose chimpanzee mauled and blinded her friend last year, leading to lawsuits and a national debate over the regulation of exotic pets, has died, her attorney said Tuesday.
Sandy Herold died Monday night of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, lawyer Robert Golger said. She was 72.
Herold's 200-pound chimpanzee, Travis, went berserk in February 2009 after Herold asked her friend, Charla Nash, to help lure it back into her house in Stamford. The animal ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids before the animal was shot and killed by police.
"Ms. Herold had suffered a series of heartbreaking losses over the last several years, beginning with the death of her only child, then her husband, then her beloved chimp Travis, as well as the tragic maiming of friend and employee Charla Nash," Golger said in a statement. "In the end, her heart, which had been broken so many times before, could take no more."
The chimpanzee's rampage forced Herold to stab her beloved pet with a butcher knife and pound him with a shovel.
"For me to do something like that — put a knife in him — was like putting one in myself," she said afterward. The chimp turned around, she said, as if to say, "'Mom, what did you do?'"
Travis had appeared in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola when he was younger, and at home he was treated like a member of the family. A family friend has said Herold fed the chimp steak, lobster, ice cream and Italian food.
Nash recently underwent a preliminary evaluation to determine whether she is a candidate for a face and hand transplant at a Harvard-affiliated hospital.
The mauling led Congress and state officials to consider strengthening laws against keeping exotic animals. A prosecutor said in December that Herold would not face criminal charges because there was no evidence she knowingly disregarded any risk the animal posed.
Nash's family sued Herold for $50 million and wants to sue the state for $150 million, saying officials failed to prevent the attack.
"Our sympathies go out to her family," said Bill Monaco, attorney for Nash's family.
Golger and Monaco said they expected the lawsuit to continue.
"The stress of defending a multimillion-dollar lawsuit and all that it entailed also weighed heavy on Sandy," Golger said. "She hated living alone in a house where she faced constant reminders of the vibrant and happy life she once led with her family and friends."
Golger described Herold as generous and an animal lover.
"In a world where too many people strive to just fit in, she stood out as a true individual," Golger said. "She marched to the beat of her own drum and was proud of it."