Just like seeing eye dogs help blind people navigate and dodge obstacles, monkey helpers
are highly trained capuchin monkeys that provide in home assistance to people with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments. In home assistance can range from fetching objects (think TV remote), flipping pages of a book, inserting straws in a bottle, turning room lights on or off, putting CD in a CD player, turning on tv and flipping channels to scratching itches and repositioning limbs on wheelchair. Essentially, the monkeys are trained in performing routing every day tasks.
With their small size, fine motor skills, long lifespan (30 – 40 years) and their ability to be trained in performing various chores, service monkeys can bring a lot of independence and engagement to people who are in wheelchairs and/or with limited mobility. The service is provided by Helping Hands Monkey Helpers without any cost to qualified applicants. Applicants have to be eligible
to qualify for this service and go through a seven step application process
though, which involves written application, references, home video, and a home visit.
Applicants are carefully reviewed and selected, and a monkey helper who matches their personality and requirements is then selected and placed. A sense of humor is encouraged and the expectation is that the adult applicant will be willing to consider building a relationship with the monkey helper as a project that may take anywhere from 6 to 8 months. The “placement week” is considered pretty intense, where a lot of information is provided to the recipient and their caretakers.
Capuchin monkeys structure their lives around a hierarchy, and it is important to understand and respect that. There are some monkeys that like loud, dominant people whereas others may get more friendly with quiet, easy going people. For example, monkeys may place the recipient at the top of the hierarchy, their caretaker (who bathes them and files their nails; provides care) next, then themselves, other members of the family, care attendants etc., and finally other pets in the family, if there are any. Being at the top of the hierarchy, recipients get a lot of love and affection from the monkey helper that in turn provides a great level of empowerment. Helping Hands already know their monkeys very well and depending on the personality of the recipient, a matching monkey is placed.
Of all the people assisted by monkey helpers, 55% have spinal cord injuries, 10% have multiple sclerosis, another 10% have muscular dystrophy, and the rest have other type of disabilities (for example amputation due to trauma or disease). 10 – 12 monkey helpers are placed with qualified adults every year.
Monkey helpers are not expected and trained to every type of chores though. For example, they are not trained to retrieve medical pills, brush someone’s teeth or dress them, feed or cook, dial the phone, or alert someone in case of an emergency. They are definitely not trained to fetch food from the fridge because that’s way too tempting!
Helping Hands has a great set of short videos that show what all monkey helpers can do, how and where they are trained, and how they are making more and more people independent. Watch the shorter videos here, and the longer ones here.
There is a lot of valuable information on their website to make sure to check it out!
Website and Image source: http://monkeyhelpers.org