Trained Capuchin Monkeys Assist People with Disabilities
Jan 05, 2011
Specifically trained Capuchin Monkeys are used as aids for people who are physically disabled. They are specially trained to help with housework that might be difficult for a person with disabilities such as removing garbage, fetching the telephone, or switching on the microwave. The Capuchin monkey has small hands with slim fingers making it quite easy to open bottles, grab the telephone, and many other useful tasks. They can also be cute little buddies that help avoid loneliness by providing their companionship.
Craig Cook, 44, was a former engineer and American football quarterback until he broke his spine in a car crash. Cook unexpectedly lost not only his mobility, but also his job and girlfriend. He found it very difficult to transition into his new circumstances. When all seemed hopeless, a friend told Cook about an organization called Helping Hands. Unaware of the program prior to his friend’s suggestion, he quickly contacted them and sent in a required application video. A few months later he received his new buddy Minnie. He has now had her for over six years and is still in love.
Minnie is one of 45 Capuchin monkeys in the US, making her a very rare and desirable aid. She was trained for several years in Boston by an organization known as “Helping Hands.” The facility has had great success in training these monkeys to be assistants and lifelong partners for the paralyzed. Andrea Rothfelder, a Helping Hands employee says, “The Capuchin monkeys provide independence and the gift of joy and companionship to the recipients. These animals are very affectionate and loving; a lot of recipients call it a little miracle when their monkey moves in.”
Cook says, “She is more human than you would think.” He also stated that it’s great to have her around on a bad day as she can always make him laugh. “It’s wonderful to have an animal like that at home.”
The school for the monkeys includes 180 Capuchins, 50 of which are located at the Boston facility, where they practice using light switches, drawers, bottles and CD players. They eventually practice what they have learned in a “teaching apartment” furnished with a wheelchair, bed, bookshelf, and kitchenette. When the monkeys complete the task correctly, they are rewarded with peanut butter and whipped cream from the can. The monkeys are drilled with 30 commands, which include fetch, trash, push, and open. For example “push” might be a command to close the refrigerator or “open” for the opposite.
The monkeys are considered to be more ideal for training when they reach about 8 years old. The first step is being placed in foster families, the purpose is to warm them up to humans. The next step is ranged from two to four years of extensive training, sometimes longer. Once they are considered to be house trained, they can move in with their new owner.
“The monkeys can be a lifeline; however, the most important thing of all is the companionship that they bring and this unconditional love. Suddenly you have this little monkey person who thinks you’re the coolest thing ever,” says director of training Payne.
To learn more about the Capuchin Monkeys, visit Helping Hands at http://www.monkeyhelpers.org/
To watch a video of the monkeys for people with disabilities, follow this link: http://www.monkeyhelpers.org/ourfamily/monkeys/monkeyDO/