In the 1970s, a Tufts University psychologist had the idea that it might be possible to teach monkeys to help care for quadriplegics.
Since then, an organization called Helping Hands has placed more than 100 monkeys with disabled individuals, and many say these primates have changed their lives.
Helping Hands is the only organization of its kind in the world, employing ten full-time staff of which six are trainers.
Helping Hands Monkey Helpers for the Disabled is a national nonprofit serving quadriplegic and other people with severe spinal cord injuries or mobility-impairments by providing highly trained monkeys to assist with daily activities. Capuchins are used as service animals, agency officials said, because of their size, intelligence, dexterity, curiosity and affectionate nature.
Monkey Helpers for the Disabled has grown from an innovative idea into a thriving national non-profit organization that offers independence and hope to individuals with severe disabilities.
In 1982, Helping Hands became a 501(c)(3) corporation under the IRS code. From the beginning, Helping Hands' mission has been to provide assistance to people with the greatest needs: people who have become quadriplegic (paralyzed from the neck down) as a result of an accident, injury, or disease.
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.
Foster parents raise the monkeys once they leave the breeding colony in Mendon, Mass. When an animal's attention span and activity level are appropriate, it moves to the "college" and spends two years learning to perform various tasks. Training sessions last 30 to 60 minutes per day, though the monkeys are out and about during much of the day, practicing what they've learned.
Helping Hands educates thousands of young people annually through the Spinal Cord Injury Prevention Program (SCIPP).
It takes at least three to five years to train each monkey and during that time the animal's personality is closely observed so it can be placed with the right individual.
Helping Hands covers the costs of the breeding, fostering, training and placing 12-15 monkeys a year. The costs total about $38,000 per monkey from birth to placement.
You can help Helping Hands by sponsoring a monkey. Each monkey provides a life changing service for his or her recipient. Your sponsorship will help Helping Hands feed, train, and house a monkey as well as provide any medical care he or she may require.
Visit www.monkeyhelpers.org for more information.
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