A monkey could do it

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 Helper

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.

Capuchin monkey helper getting a bathYou 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?


Dogs on a plane

A couple years ago, Southwest Airlines started allowing small cats and dogs to be carried aboard (so long as they fit under the seat, in their carrier), at a $75 fee. What about larger dogs? service animals?

According to the Air Carriers Act: “carriers must accept service animal identification cards, tags, and even ‘credible verbal assurances’ from qualified individuals as proof that a given animal is a ‘service animal,'” and you cannot be charged to fly with your service animal.

People try to beat the system by saying their pets are therapy/comfort animals. You are even able to purchase “certification” for your pet at a variety of online registries. There are dozens of sites out there that let you BUY identification, vests, etc without proof of the animal’s training and without proof of the owner’s disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically states service animals must be specifically trained to work with the owner’s disability. But it doesn’t appear that there is a national registry that actually checks to see if the animal is trained. So why are there sites that allow you to buy certification?

Certification only means that a person is willing to pay for an ID for their animal. It does NOT mean that that person has a disability or that their animal is a service animal. The trouble is, most individuals/businesses don’t know this, and can be convinced to allow all sorts of animals into their establishment under the ruse of obeying the ADA.

So, effective since March 2011, the ADA specified more clearly what a service animal is: a dog (or miniature horse) that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These tasks must go above and beyond providing emotional support. “Comfort animals” are not protected under the ADA. People with mental disabilities can have service animals, so long as they physically perform a necessary task. This puts you on a slippery slope.

Consider this autistic high school student who was allowed to bring her service dog with her to class for years, until this new addition to the ADA. Even though this dog actually does perform physical tasks for the student, the district deemed it a comfort animal and did not allow her to have the dog for her senior year of highschool.

So if you plan to fly with man’s best friend, be prepared to show ID or give “credible verbal assurances’ from qualified individuals as proof that a given animal is a ‘service animal.'” Therapy animals can also fly free on most airlines so long as you have a doctor’s note expressing the need, due to a mental condition.

TSA agent with service dog

Click me for a guide to traveling with a service dog.

Opinion time… I don’t mind much that people take advantage of the system. I think that my hypothetical dog should be able to accompany me in the outdoor seating of a restaurant. If I stuff my hypothetical puppy under the chair of my seat on an airplane in place of my carry-on, that should be free. (So long as the animal is well behaved!!) What bothers me is that people are so uneducated about service animals that online companies can profit from their ignorance. If more businesses were informed on the law, there would be no market for these companies!! My question is…why do I have to essentially get disrobed and fondled to get through security, but dogs of any temperament waltz right on through! (Here’s what to really expect from TSA while traveling with a service animal)

With the number of dog maulings,  you’d think someone would find it important to set up a registry for service animals. Even if they didn’t evaluate the individual’s disability or the tasks the dog performs, they should at least certify the dog for behaving safely in a public environment.

Consider this: The US Department of Justice permits businesses to ask two questions: (1) Is this a service dog required because of disability? (2) What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

These questions are so limited and service animal identification is so easily faked… has no one seen the danger in this?

You can also fly with service monkeys!!

Now you know all you need to know about traveling with your service/therapy animals. The only thing to do now is:

(and also leave a comment about what you think of the issue 😉 It is Controversy Humpday!!)

FYI: Businesses may require any animal to leave, including a service animal, from their facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. 
-For answers to more of your specific questions on your rights and your service animal’s rights, review this fact sheet