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Helping Hands: Monkeys as Caregivers

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 4)

Why use monkeys? Helping Hands monkeys are a Capuchin species and are fondly remembered as the organ grinder monkeys that accompanied famous traveling performers. Capuchins are native to the forests of South America and have brown, blond or rust-colored hair on the body with dark brown legs, arms and tails. Their faces are light brown and have a dark brown cap that looks like the hair of a Capuchin monk (from which they get their name). They usually weigh less than ten pounds, are about fifteen inches high and live 30-40 years, on average. Because of their longevity, Capuchin monkey partnerships with humans can last longer than with any other service animal.

Capuchins are possibly the most intelligent of all the monkey species and are easily trained. They are clever problem solvers, consistent workers and are known to be natural tool users both in the wild and in captivity. In addition, they are readily able to use their hands to perform functional tasks and to manipulate objects in ways that no other assistance animal can. 

Monkeys as helpers naturally seek a relationship with the person they assist and they offer unconditional love. They are affectionate, playful, and are able to give hugs and positive touches. Child-like antics and smirky facial expressions are not uncommon behaviors for the monkeys and they ultimately bring laughter and smiles to their households. Capuchins even have the fascinating ability to read emotions and have been known to groom the faces of their recipients as a way to show affection.

The lifetime care, training and supplies for a monkey from birth to placement in a home can cost $35,000 (compared to  $50,000 for training a seeing eye dog with a ten-year lifespan). The Helping Hands organization relies completely on private contributions through grants, foundations, endowment funds, and donations and is able to provide service monkeys at no charge to select individuals who live with severe physical disabilities.

In 2002, Helping Hands restored an historic church to serve as an education and training center for the monkeys called “Monkey College.” This facility offers monkey dorm rooms, play areas, a veterinary center, a kitchen to prepare meals for the monkeys, and classrooms that are designed to support the proper training of monkeys to serve as caregivers and companions to individuals with disabilities. 
The “monkey see, monkey do” training approach starts in a small, soundproofed room beginning with simple tasks and gradually advancing to more complex tasks.


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