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Helping Hands: Monkeys as Caregivers

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 3 of 4)

Large white dots and round stickers are used to train the monkeys to stay away from doorways, stoves, medicine cabinets and other potentially dangerous areas. All monkeys are potty-trained (they return to their cage for these activities) and cage-trained so they can have their own space for toys, blankets and a quiet resting place. Positive methods are used to teach monkeys how to operate objects such as light switches, DVD and CD players, microwaves, televisions and speakerphones. Amazingly, monkeys are even capable of turning on a computer, adjusting reading glasses, and setting up food and drinks for their recipients.
It takes at least three to five years to train each monkey and during that time the animal’s personality is closely observed so it can be placed with the right individual. When a match is made between a qualified recipient and a monkey who has been completely trained, a staff person from Helping Hands will assist in the recipient’s home by teaching the couple how to care for and work with each other.
Recipients of a monkey helper command their behavior by the use of a laser pointer directed by mouth control, along with simple voice commands. This allows a movement-impaired person the ability to communicate their needs to the monkey. Positive reinforcement along with verbal praises, physical affection and rewards of food are the keys to supporting a monkey’s cooperation and task performance. Results have shown that the increased freedom and independence felt by the recipient who can once again gain some control of their environment is almost instantaneous.

The lifelong health of the monkeys is a top goal for Helping Hands veterinary staff. They are committed to making sure that each monkey’s health and nutritional status is monitored regularly and that, once trained, they are placed in appropriate homes that can offer them support, stimulation and love. After the monkeys leave the training center and are placed with recipients, local veterinarians are utilized to oversee the monkey’s health on a yearly basis. Each Helping Hands monkey has a health certificate that is updated annually and meets the state standards where the services are provided.

There are two other meaningful aspects of the Helping Hands Program. One is the focus on prevention programs that teach young people about the unsafe behaviors that can lead to spinal cord injuries. They also learn about the challenges faced by people with disabilities, the value of service animals as caregivers, and the importance of participating in community service projects and fundraisers to help support the care of the monkeys.

The second program aspect is the use of volunteer foster homes for the young monkeys to learn to live in a positive home environment until they are ready to attend Monkey College. Foster homes are also used when monkeys are waiting to be placed with a recipient and after they retire as a service animal.


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