Run by the Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation in Boston, the Monkey College trains monkeys as service animals. Helping Hand monkeys, those who successfully graduated from the Monkey College, are placed in recipients’ homes to assist them with daily activities. Most of the recipients suffer spinal cord injuries.
At the college, monkeys are paired with highly disciplined trainers. There are three levels of training in which monkeys can learn easy and sophisticated skills, step-by-step. Trainers use laser pointers and simple words to instruct the monkeys. They also give praise and offer food rewards to practice new skills during the training.
In the final phase, monkeys are trained in an environment imitating an apartment. This aims to let the monkey get used to a homelike environment. By the end of the training, they will be able to cook, open containers and fridges, hand over remote controls and play CDs or DVDs.
Robert Foster and his monkey, Hellion, have lived together for more than 25 years. Foster is a quadriplegic, disabled due to a car crash, and Hellion has been with him ever since. She helps with daily activities that Foster can’t manage on his own.
“She’s my family. She’s my kid,” Foster tells CBS.
Craig, a California resident, is another individual receiving assistance from a Helping Hand monkey. Craig (who did not provide his surname) suffered a C-5 spinal cord injury in a car crash just before his 30th birthday. He and his monkey, Minnie, have been together for about 10 years.
“My independence has been increased and I have the security of knowing that Minnie can assist me with tasks that would be impossible for me without her. She really alleviates the pain of being in a wheelchair,” Craig tells the Helping Hands website.
This innovative approach provides a constructive solution for patients who suffer spinal cord injuries around the world. Many of them are unable to live independently and need family members to take care of them. This alternative can provide recipients with independence.
– Jing Xu
Sources: Monkey Helpers 1, Monkey Helpers 2, CBS News