Program Trains Monkeys To Help Paralyzed Patients
Chris Watts with his helper, Sadie.
Without the use of their arms or legs, many paralyzed patients are left close to helpless, but a unique program is using monkeys to help the patients perform every day tasks.
The program, called Helping Hands
, teaches Capuchin monkeys how to be the arms and legs for people who have lost the use of theirs. The monkeys are trained to do things like take food from the refrigerator and heat it up in the microwave.
Chris Watts has been a quadriplegic since he dove into a pond and hit his head. He broke his neck and has no feeling from the chest down. Watts said his helper, Sadie, has helped him out a lot around the house and is somewhat like having a daughter, a friend, a pet and a personal care attendant wrapped into one.
"If I dropped my water on the floor, or I dropped my pills or any of those kind of things, it stayed on the floor until someone came home," Watts said. But Sadie has helped Watts become more independent. He uses a laser pointer to show Sadie what he wants.Sadie can open the fridge to pull out a bottle of water, place the bottle in Watts' cup, open the top and put in the straw.
The monkeys are trained by Helping Hands, a national non-profit organization based in Allston, Mass. Monkeys live in foster homes for the first five years of their lives, and then they go to "Monkey College." Each monkey is trained to do everyday tasks for people who can't."
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Every monkey is different and we look at what they do quite well naturally, what they enjoy doing and then we build on those abilities and place them in a situation where those are the very things some people need some help with," said Judi Zazula with Helping Hands. Zazula said the monkeys tend to form wonderful relationships with people." They also are very curious and they love to manipulate objects and those are the very skills that are important that a person can't do for themselves," Zazula said.
It costs about $35,000 to train and care for each monkey. The costs are covered by donations and grants. The monkeys usually live for 30 to 40 years."
We give something to each other," Watts said. " She needs my affection just as much as I need hers." Watts said Sadie not only gives him increased independence, but companionship as well." It just feels really good," Watts said. "Just to know there's something that loves you unconditionally like she does."
The monkeys can serve for 25 to 30 years as a live-in companion. Each one takes about seven years to train.
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Monkeys Help Quadriplegics
By: Tracy Grinnell
Margo Gahagan is one of the volunteers who help nurture and rear the monkeys.
Imagine not being able to pick up the phone, walk across the room to turn off the stove, or even scratch an itch. These are the daily life frustrations for many quadriplegics, but some are now being eased with the help of friendly, outgoing and intelligent monkeys.
An innovative program called "The Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled" is placing capuchin monkeys with disabled people who need help with daily tasks. Founded in 1970 by behavioral psychologist, Dr. M.J. Willard, Helping Hands provides capuchins, also known as organ-grinder monkeys, to the disabled with free lifetime support services. The organization also conducts workshops for schools and camps that teach children about spinal cord injury prevention, disability awareness and human-animal bonds.
Sue and Henri
In 1982, a 10-year-old female capuchin monkey named Henrietta, was placed with Sue Strong, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a 1976 car accident and was paralyzed from the neck down. Henrietta, nicknamed Henri, had spent the first 10 years of her life as a pet, but when her owner died, she was donated to a children’s zoo. However, she was not comfortable with kids and was donated to the Helping Hands project.
Helping Hands trained Henri to work with Sue and they have been together for almost 19 years. Henri, now 33, puts prepared food in the microwave for Sue, turns the lights on and off and gives Sue back her mouth-stick, which is an instrument that helps her dial the phone and do other things, when it drops from her mouth.
Though Sue has family members that help out during the week, it’s impossible for someone to always be with her.
“Monkey helpers help the disabled when they are alone. They cut down on medical costs and make it easier for people to be comfortable in their own homes,” Sue says. “Henri’s totally reliable. She’s a member of the family, a major factor in every part of my life. The tasks Henri performs for me are extremely essential but they actually take backstage to the huge personality she’s brought into my life.”
Helping Hands is funded by corporate and private sponsorship and supported by such organizations as The Wild Republic (www.wildrepublic.com) and Continental Airlines. The monkeys are handpicked from the selective breeding program at Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, Mass.
Monkeys who grow up in a human environment from an early age are more tame and affectionate. So at 6 weeks of age they are given to a carefully-screened foster parent, who then readies the monkeys for their future careers in health care.
It’s All in the Training
Jean Amaral, Helping Hands administrator, says the monkeys are trained through positive reinforcement only. They are not harmed or punished during any part of the training process
“If they do not do something, nothing happens. If they do something good or correctly, they are rewarded with praise and usually an edible treat,” she says.
Tasks to be learned are broken down into individual steps and repeated until performed correctly. They include actions that are generally taken for granted in everyday life: getting or preparing something to eat or drink, scratching annoying itches, retrieving things that have been dropped or out of reach. The monkeys are also taught to meet individual needs, such as putting a slipped foot back onto a footstool.
Each monkey has five or six individual training sessions per week that last 30 to 45 minutes. Training takes about one year.
“Helping Hands training is like giving these monkeys a college education,” says Sue. “Because these monkeys are so intelligent, it’s actually stimulating for them. They naturally want to be busy and not just stare into space as they might be if they were being used for other purposes.”
Margo and Sammy
Margo Gahagan, of Fond du Lac, Wis., is one of the volunteers who help nurture and rear the monkeys for the Helping Hands program. “I had always wanted a monkey from the time I was a little girl; it’s always been my dream,” she says.
A little over four years ago, after doing extensive research on monkeys and reading 19 books on capuchins, Margo knew she had to have one. Happily, the very last book she read was about Helping Hands.
“I was just fascinated by it, so I immediately read it from cover to cover and my heart just stopped. This [Helping Hands] was the most amazing way of making someone else’s life livable while, at the same time, fulfilling my dream.”
It wasn’t long before Margo contacted Helping Hands and learned just how strict their foster parenting application/interview process is. Nonetheless, she and her family were determined to go for it.
“We had to fill out extensive paperwork and produce a list of references,” Margo recalls. “We also had to videotape each room of our house so Helping Hands could decide if it was suitable and large enough for a capuchin.”
Margo also sent videotapes to Helping Hands of her and her daughter talking about why they wanted to become a foster family.
“The process to get Sammy was actually more intense than the process my husband and I had to go through when we adopted our youngest daughter,” Margo says. “This is wonderful because becoming a foster parent isn’t for everyone. It’s a big responsibility and some people can’t handle it because it’s necessary to be with your monkey at all times. I’m a homebody so this isn’t a problem at all for me. My advice to any would-be foster parents is: Be patient! This process takes a tremendous amount of time, love and willingness to stay home.”
Sammy at Home
It took Sammy several months to acclimate to his new environment, but once he began to feel at home, he automatically became part of the Gahagan family and very comfortable with other people.
“Helping Hands does a wonderful job matching monkey personalities with foster families,” Margo says. “With Sammy we got a perfect match.”
Monkeys, just like human babies, need to be diapered, bathed, fed and given a tremendous amount of love. Margo is certain her family have lived up to their end of the foster family bargain because, she says, “Sammy is just a little loverboy. He loves so much at times, especially when he meets new people that he can hardly contain himself.”
The Best Thing
When asked what the best thing about having Sammy is, Margo has trouble deciding: “Basically, the best thing is just having Sammy here with us all the time because he adds such joy to our lives. I know he’ll make somebody else just as happy some day and I’m sure that what he’s done for me and my family will only double for someone who can’t do for him/herself.”
To find out more about the program or to become a foster parent contact Helping Hands at 617-787-4417 or go to www.helpinghandsmonkeys.org
Paralyzed Patients Receive Help From Monkeys
(WJZ) NEW YORK
Without the use of their arms or legs many paralyzed patients are left close to helpless.Now a unique program is offering a helping hand.But patients have to be willing to except some monkey business.
Capuchin monkeys are the same monkey organ grinders used. Now instead of doing frivolous tricks, these monkeys are being taught to be the arms and leaves of people who've lost the use of their own. The program is called "helping hands" which is a non-profit organization that trains monkeys in a facility called monkey college.
"The apartment is just like a home, where you have all the distractions, but the monkey learns how to take food out of the fridge, put it in the microwave, heat it up. They learn all the things that are necessary." Robert Stern of Helping Hands says.
It takes about 7 years to train each monkey, and during that time the staff observes the animal's personality so it can be placed with an appropriate client.
"Every monkey is different, and we look at what they do quite well naturally, what they enjoy doing, and then we build on those abilities and then place them in a situation where those are the very things some people need some help with." says Judi Zazula of Helping Hands.
Jim Cesario works in the Mount Sinai rehabilitation department. He says the program can help many of his patients.
"It would increase their independence and that's key with anyone who has a disability, or a spinal cord injury is being able to do as much as you can without having to ask somebody." he said. "Besides getting this and fetching that and doing that, you look at them and there's a love, there's a bond." he added.
These monkeys can serve a patient for 25 to 30 years. That's two to three times longer than a seeing eye dog.
Toby, a 10-year-old capuchin
monkey, places a mouth stick used by paralyzed people to push buttons or manipulate items between the teeth of her trainer Alison Payne, as she trains in the tasks that monkeys provide for the disabled at the 'Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled' organization's 'monkey college' facility in the Brighton section of Boston in this photograph taken May 7, 2004. The organization, which has already trained more than 93 monkeys to live with and assist severely disabled or paralyzed people, hopes to enroll hundreds of new student monkeys in its 2-3 year 'monkey college' training program.
Learn about animal therapy. The how, the where, and the who of service monkeys and therapy horses, who serve the disabled by providing companionship, independence, and greatly improved self-esteem.
When service animals are mentioned, what comes immediately to mind are, of course, dogs. But no matter how diligent and true, even the most eager-to-please canine cannot provide a Sunday afternoon ride through the woods, or fetch your toothbrush. For those tasks, you need a horse or a monkey, respectively.
When Liz Hartel, riding for Denmark, won a silver medal for dressage in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, it became evident that disabled people could attain a high degree of mastery in that sport. In the 1960’s, therapeutic riding began in earnest in North America; the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association was founded in 1969. Today, there are more than 550 NARHA-affiliated centers putting over 30,000 people with various physical and mental disabilities on the backs of 4,000 horses. The Federation of Riding For the Disabled International was founded in 1980 and, working with the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee (IPEC), advances equestrian sport for disabled riders. With this many dedicated, enthusiastic people working so hard, riding centers can be found from Alaska to Singapore.
People with brain and spinal cord injuries or amputations and those with diseases such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, and post polio symptoms have a great need for non-weight-bearing activities. Riding a horse is not like sitting on the sofa; a rider must meld with the smooth rhythms of their mount. This action strengthens the muscles around the spine, improves joint mobility, coordination and balance. Swimming works well in many cases, but bonding with a large gentle animal is a warm and fulfilling experience and helping to care for the horses provides a definite boost to independence and self-esteem. Those with autism, Down Syndrome, and emotional disabilities also show signs of improvement through equine therapy. The rider doesn’t have to know where they’re going as long as the horse does, so the visually impaired can ride, too.
If the disabled person cannot sit a horse, driving or hippotherapy are alternatives. Hippotherapy rehabilitates through the movement of a specially trained horse in the company of a therapeutic riding instructor. Whether driving or riding, the feeling of freedom and accomplishment is most exhilarating. You can reach NARHA by writing to them at PO Box 33150, Denver CO 80233.
Now, although horses are wonderful animals, they’d feel cramped in most living rooms, and, even if they try real hard, retrieving a CD from under the couch is beyond them. But capuchin monkeys are ideally suited to the task. Capuchins (KAP yu chihn) are considered by some zoologists to be the most intelligent New World monkeys. They’re little guys, 17’ long (not counting their tails, which add another 18’) and weigh about 5 pounds, just right for shoulder or lap. They’re either black or brown, with white or beige faces and live in the tropical forests of Central and South America, spending most of their time in trees. Very social animals, they form quite tightly knit groups of five to thirty monkeys, sharing the job of raising offspring. Those who will become helpers to disabled humans are mostly bred for that purpose, with the help of Disney World in Florida and Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, Massachusetts.
Dr. M.J. Willard was a pioneer when she thought of capuchins as a eager pair of hands for paralyzed patients. She and Judi Zazula, now the executive director of Helping Hands, placed their first monkey, named Hellion, in 1979.
These simple things mean a lot to a person confined in a wheelchair. These monkeys perform many tasks for their owners, for instance, getting a snack or beverage, picking up dropped items, and turning on and off lights. More importantly, having a friend available at all hours means as much or more to the recipient as having someone to hand them the remote. The monkeys becomes a combination of a buddy and a child; the relationship will become extremely close.
The criteria for recipients of a monkey are extensive, but fair. They cannot receive a monkey until a year after their accident, secondly, their principal caregiver, who is involved in basic care of the monkey, must agree with the plan, the patient must be at home the majority of the time, and there can be no small children in the house. The recipient must have a functioning electric wheelchair that they can manage competently, and be able to care for the monkey as they would a youngster.
Another group essential to the program are the foster families. People that raise the monkeys have the responsibility of spending up to four years with a young animal whom, in the end, they must give up. It’s very similar to fostering a child; certain standards must be met. For instance, socialization and good manners must be taught as well as the monkey’s physical needs, like diaper changing and bathing. The animal’s food, vet bills, and all incidental expenses (with the exception of transportation) must be paid for by the foster family. The primary care-giver cannot work full-time outside the home (having a helper monky can allow the victim to work from their home), there can be no small children in the family, and expensive bric-a-brac must be relegated to the closet. It is bittersweet, but hugely rewarding in the end, when the monkey goes off to become the dearest friend of someone who badly needs one. And then, what the heck, they already have the cage and the newborn Pampers, they might just as well start all over again.
It’s not cheap, providing helper monkeys estimates to about $25,000 per. But when you consider the number of years the little animal will be helping people, it becomes a sensible investment.
To become a foster parent, or if a helper monkey would change your life, write to Helping Hands, 541 Cambridge Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02134 or call (617)787-4419. If you’re needing a new charitable deduction, keep in mind that this invaluable service is provided free to those who need it and depends completely on private donations.
AxisGears, a Los Angeles-based production company has produced a wonderful television show “Fur, Fins, and Feathers”, all about animal-assisted therapy, the beasties and the people who love and depend on them. The home video can be purchased through Amazon.com. It will give you an understanding of how relationships between humans and animals can abundantly serve each other.