Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Monkey See, Monkey Help

I read an article in the May edition of Reader's Digest that really moved and amazed me. It was about an organization called Helping Hands Monkeys, that provides monkey helpers for the diabled. Yes, monkeys. Specifically, they train Capuchin monkeys to do all sorts of tasks around the house that a disabled person wouldn't be able to do alone. This allows those who are physically handicapped to still maintain a great deal of independence and dignity. This was moving in itself, but what really tugged at my heartstrings was the way those who have received these monkeys share about how deeply attached they become to their monkeys. One of them said "It's somewhere between having a daughter and a friend, and a pet and a personal care attendant all wrapped in one."

Reader's Digest told the story of a man who had been in a car accident and become totally paralyzed from the neck down. The only thing he could move was a couple of fingers to operate his wheelchair. After his fiancee and her son left him, he spiraled into a dark depression. But then along came Minnie, a 20-year-old Capuchin monkey helper. She not only enabled him to live independently, but she brought him joy and the affection he so desperately needed. He says that Minnie saved his life.

At Helping Hands, they specifically breed these monkeys and give them very intense training to become helper monkeys. For the first five years of their lives, they live with a nondisabled foster family just to become socialized and have a fun and healthy childhood. Then they spend 2 years in Monkey College where they learn how to do a host of amazing things. They are trained to respond to laser pointers and about 30 verbal commands. When a monkey graduates from Monkey College at the age of 7, it can switch on/off the lights, open a bottle and put a straw in it, operate a microwave and serve food, clean up trash, switch on a TV or computer, select a CD or DVD and operate the player, turn the pages of a book, brush hair, open and close drawers, turn a faucet on/off, open the refrigerator, open a jar and pour out its contents, and take care of their own bathing and grooming. Amazing!!!! These monkey can live to be 40, so that gives them a solid 30 years of being able to be helpers.

Capuchin monkeys are specifically well-suited for this job because of their strong and nimble hands/arms that allow them to do intricate work with their fingers and lift over half their bodyweight (a mere 4-5 pounds). The Reader's Digest story told how Minnie's owner could use his laser pointer to select a movie, and she would get it and put it in the DVD player. Then he could say "popcorn" and she would go to the pantry, get out popcorn, put it in the microwave, pop it, take it out of the microwave, take it to her owner, open the bag, make sure it wasn't too hot, and then feed it to him (helping herself to some of it too!). I'm just blown away.

So now that I've inspired you for the day, I'll leave you with this bit of trivia. Capuchin monkeys get their name from an order of monks of the Catholic Church called Capuchin Friars, because the markings in the monkeys' fur resembles the traditional look of one of these friars. This is also where the drink cappucino got its name. I learned that from Trivial Pursuit. :)

1 comment:

JTapp said...

Very cool. Yay for monkeys!