Of Course the Emotional-Support Peacock Turned Away by United Is From South Florida

dexterthepeacock on Instagram
Take any weird news story and there’s undoubtedly a Florida connection. And this week’s viral tale of an emotional-support peacock denied boarding a United Airlines flight is no exception. The peacock, it turns out, is a South Florida native. Of course.

This being a peak Miami story, the bird was purchased (on Craigslist, naturally) by photographer and conceptual artist Ventiko for inclusion in an Art Basel installation.

Ventiko did not immediately respond to New Times’ request for comment, but the Brooklyn resident shared Dexter the peacock’s origin story in a 2015 interview with Bushwick Daily.

It begins in December 2014, when Ventiko was setting up a Basel installation called On Beauty. The project included iconography “inspired by the flora and fauna of Florida.” She decided to include some actual fauna and turned to Craigslist in search of birds.

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

On Beauty - Behind the Scenes look at SELECT during Art Basel 2014 from Ventiko on Vimeo.

She drove north to Jupiter, where she bought Dexter and Etta from a family. From the beginning, Ventiko and Dexter had a special bond — the bird gave her kisses and snuggled against her neck. He was featured prominently in the installation, alongside a sex doll, palm fronds, and several seminude models.

When the show was over, Ventiko handed Dexter and Etta over to a friend in North Port, north of Fort Myers. The two lovebirds mated, but then tragedy struck: Etta and the chicks vanished one day, never to return. Dexter wasn’t the same after her disappearance and ended up confined to a garage.

Ventiko decided she had to intervene. She brought Dexter home, where he settled into her apartment alongside her two cats and went back to his old, sweet self.

“We all live together in harmony,” the artist said. “It’s kind of strange that it works so well, but rather than question it, I am just accepting the gifts of the universe.”

In 2015, she was trying to find someplace else as a permanent home for Dexter — possibly the Dominican Republic. That plan apparently changed, and instead, Dexter and Ventiko continued living in harmony in Brooklyn, where they occasionally became meme fodder. (“Hipster level: Why?” reads one image showing Ventiko walking Dexter on a leash.)
Hipster Level: Why?
Dexter also got his own very artsy Instagram account, which includes photos of him riding shotgun and posing in front of the Manhattan skyline.

“The whole thing is ridiculous,” the artist told the blog Bedford + Bowery last summer. “But the universe put us together and he really changed my life in a positive way. Dexter disarms anybody he meets.”
After the peacock was turned away by United representatives at Newark Liberty International Airport, Ventiko reportedly tried to buy him a seat. That didn't work either. So the two set off to Los Angeles by car.

While a debate has been raging online about whether peacocks should qualify as support animals, the peacock who started the firestorm has been documenting his travels on Instagram. He has been photographed with his "grandparents" in Indianapolis, in front of a pinball machine in St. Louis, and on the steps of a theater in Oklahoma.

By Thursday, his story showed, he had made it all the way to New Mexico.
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas

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