For many people living with disabilities, a service animal can vastly improve their quality of life.
Service animals aren’t always dogs. Dogs are an obvious good choice because they are very smart, loving and loyal. But other species like pigs serve! Which brings me to Monkey Helpers.
Monkey Helpers is a 34 year old non-profit that raises and trains capuchin monkeys to help people with severe physical disabilities. Monkeys are an ideal service animal because, not only are they very smart and trainable, they also have opposable thumbs and nimble little fingers to accomplish a huge variety of tasks. Also, capuchin monkeys have long lifespan of 30-40 years!
How it works:
- Volunteers welcome a baby capuchin monkey into their home, to help them adjust to a house environment, for a couple years.
- When they are mature enough, the monkey goes to Monkey College for 3-5 years. Here they learn tasks like fetching a specific item and, “sun” (turning on a light), and is potty trained.
- Now it’s time for the monkey to be matched with a recipient. Recipients must meet some basic requirements. And then the team carefully considers which pairing will make the best match based on personality and compatibility.
- The monkey lives with the recipient until he retires. At that point volunteers welcome the monkey into their home to live up their retirement in a relaxing environment.
The interesting thing is that the monkey is free to the recipient but is still owned by Monkey Helpers. Trainers check in with the pairing and facilitate a great new bond.
One of the great values of this program, for recipients, is that they get a companion. Often recipients are looking for a service animal because they are lonely, in addition to needing an extra pair of hands. As one trainer put it in this video:
One of the things that’s very important to a lot of recipients is that their monkey doesn’t see them as disabled. They don’t recognize the things they are unable to do. Their monkey sees the recipient as protector, as alpha. And that’s really important; its a really important gift the monkeys gives to somebody that has had so much taken away from them.
Here is just one story of how much a monkey gives and how many recipients come to realize that they can’t imagine life without their monkey.
You can get a “Behind the Scenes” tour the training facility and see the monkeys only a couple days in the year. Or, if you aren’t in the Boston area, you can check out their Meet The Monkey’s webpage. And if you really love what you see, they have a few special fundraising events coming up where you can show your support!
Would you get a Monkey Helper?