When I was about 8 years old, I started the campaign for a pet: what I desired above all else was a horse. (Although it’s true, I had never ridden one, I had read many fairy tales and books about horses and considered myself quite knowledgeable on all things horse-y.) I had the perfect plan: we could convert our garage (which, I reasoned, we didn’t use anyway), and the horse could graze in the backyard. Perfect.
From my adult vantage point, I can see now that a) the garage was so small that a minivan wouldn’t fit in it, much less a horse, and that b) the back yard of our home, in a densely-populated Boston neighborhood, was about the same square footage as the garage.
Pet number 2 on my relentless quest: a monkey! Surely there can be no objections to a monkey pet? It could stay in my room. Perfect. Right, Mom and Dad?
It wasn’t to be.
But when my daughter Marianne was in fifth grade, a guy named Ned Campbell came to speak to her class in Newton. Ned had a terrible car accident in his early 20’s that left him a quadriplegic with brain injuries. He came to Marianne’s class with his helper monkey, Kasey, and his mom Ellen. Ellen wrote a book, Kasey to the Rescue, about how Kasey’s companionship helped Ned through the depression he felt as a result of his injuries.
Marianne and I got to know Ned, his mom and Kasey better, and we even had a chance to meet Kasey at home with Ned. I will say: having a monkey, even a highly-trained helper monkey, isn’t quite the fantasy I had nurtured for so long. It’s a lot of work, and caring for a monkey requires consistent commitment to its needs and a willingness to be alpha for it. They are not playthings. My childhood dreams have really taken a beating.
If you read Ellen’s book or hear her and Ned speak, you will see the impact Kasey has made on their lives. To see Kasey with Ned, you know that all the work that goes into her care and training is worth it: she curls up on his neck, nuzzles in under his chin and strokes him with her beautiful little hands. She loves him, and he her. Check it out: Ned and Kasey were featured in USA Weekend magazine.
Helping Hands is the organization in Boston that trains capuchin monkeys to work with those with spinal cord injuries or other mobility challenges. They spoke at the National Abilities Expo in Boston this past fall, and I imagine will be back for the 2014 expo. Their website is informative, especially the video on it called Imagine a Monkey under the tab “who we serve.” They love to talk about what they do. If you think a helper monkey is for you, call them or check out their website. Maybe Marianne will join the ranks of proud service monkey recipients some day!