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Helping Hands: Monkeys as Caregivers

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 4)

Minnie, my Capuchin monkey, has made my life so much richer and fuller. My independence has been increased and I have the security of knowing that Minnie can assist with tasks that would be impossible for me without her. For example, she retrieves my cell phone, which is my lifeline for emergencies, and places it on my lap. She can "fetch" a soda or a cool drink or put food in the microwave for dinner. She can scratch an itch or reposition my leg.  We share a bond. She got me out of my depression over being in a wheelchair. Once Minnie arrived, I never looked back. Her presence has enhanced the quality of my life.  She’s my best friend.” – Craig Cook, Helping Hands board member and monkey helper recipient

Monkeys as caregivers? Unbelievable, but true! Man meets monkey at a whole new level beyond the excitement of the circus arena and the animal zoo! These adorable, fascinating creatures are incredibly capable of performing a multitude of simple, everyday tasks. Instead of  “monkeying around,” these primates are being taught to be the arms and legs for persons who have lost the use of their own limbs. Best of all, the companionship and loving bond that is created between the monkey and the care recipient is as important as the tasks performed and the independence that comes from this unique relationship.

Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled, Inc. was founded in Boston in 1979 and has grown from a creative idea to a thriving, national nonprofit organization that offers hope and independence to individuals with severe disabilities. It is the only organization of its kind in the world, employing ten full-time staff of which six are trainers. Since the beginning, Helping Hands has strived to provide personal care assistance to people with the greatest needs, especially people who have become paralyzed from an accident or a disease process.

During the organization’s history, Helping Hands has completed 120 placements of monkey helpers in private homes in over 42 states. They are placed with individuals living with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, stroke, polio, ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease and other mobility-limiting conditions. Since the monkeys can not perform every task necessary to support an individual, their family, friends and hired caregivers are also relied upon for personal and health care needs, paperwork and shopping. Helping Hands monkeys complete the circle of care by adding an extra set of hands and round the clock companionship.


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