At an organization called Helping Hands, Capuchin monkeys are trained to help disabled patients with everyday physical tasks, such as opening doorknobs, getting the remote, even turn the page of a book they’re reading. Much like how a guide dog guides the blind, these primates become an extension of the patient, thus giving them the confidence to live a more normal life.
Why the capuchin monkey? Due to the primate’s advanced motor skills and dexterous hands, the species was a prime choice for Helping Hands to train. Originally an experiment, the organization has now changed the lives of 8 recipients and counting. These monkeys are born into the programme and undergo training for 3 to 5 years at monkey college, before they are matched with patients who suffer from mobility impairment. The monkeys become both their helper and their friend. Being an extremely intelligent species, the capuchin monkey is able to feed off the emotions of their patients and by being paired up, the couple undergoes a bonding experience through companionship over the years.
A prime case study is Ned Sullivan and his monkey, Casey, who have been together for over 10 years. After a car accident in 2005, Ned, then a college student, was left with a spinal cord injury that changed his life. He couldn’t move or talk. Casey helped Ned with various physical tasks and provided the emotional support Ned needed to slowly regain his mobility. Celebrating their 10-year anniversary, the two are now inseperable.
As amazing as it is that these monkeys are giving their recipients another chance at life, with all animal experiments there is the question if this is fair to the animal. Capuchin monkeys are a social species by nature and usually live in groups. Unlike dogs or cats, which have been domesticated over thousands of years, monkeys are wild animals and considered illegal exotic pets in many countries. Major animal organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, do not support monkey ownership as these monkeys have needs that cannot necessarily be met if kept in captivity. Among many other reasons, these primates can also transmit infectious diseases. These monkeys are born into the programme and do not know life outside their captivity, but they are still a species meant to be living in the wild with their own kind. Some pet monkeys also have their teeth removed for safety to their owners, much like how many cat owners declaw their feline friends. Is being trained to aid patients rediscover their lives a fair trade-off for the natural wild life they could have led, especially if they would never know the difference?
Organization link: https://monkeyhelpers.org/