Video: Helping disabled serious business for monkeys

By Lester Holt Anchor
Weekend Today
updated 1/18/2007 7:55:38 PM ET 2007-01-19T00:55:38

Monkey see.

"Sharon, do this," says animal trainer Kit Stanton to a capuchin monkey.

Monkey do.

"Good job, Sharon," says Stanton as the monkey puts a ring on a pole.

It's not a just a saying. For a small but growing group of the severely disabled, these capuchin monkeys do a lot.

"Monkeys can do everything from putting a CD in a CD player, work with DVDs, help with computer work," says Megan Keppler with the Boston-based nonprofit group Helping Hands, which trains and donates monkeys to people with disabilities.

Trained monkeys can also pick up a dropped TV remote or scratch an itch — things that are now impossible for 23-year-old Ned Sullivan, paralyzed in a 2005 car accident.

"She is going to allow him to have a world outside of his wheelchair and outside of his bed," says Ned's mother Ellen Rogers.

A monkey named Casey was trained and given to Sullivan by Helping Hands. She's one of more than 100 monkeys so far placed with disabled clients around the country.

Affectionate and highly intelligent, the monkeys start with easy stuff like putting a ball in a cup, but ultimately learn to do what their owners cannot.

"It's the little things in life that these monkeys can help people regain, rather than having to ask a human attendant or a family member," says Keppler.

By the time the monkeys start their formal training, they have typically spent up to 10 years living with a foster family, getting used to life in a home. Then there is two to three years of school, and finally, they are teenagers by the time they graduate and are ready to be placed.

Donations pay for the training, but a rigorous screening sharply limits the number of qualified recipients.

"Having a monkey in your home is much like having a small child in your home," says Keppler. "It's not similar to having a cat or a dog."

Since it's a relationship that could last as long as 20 years, trainers say matching the right human to the right monkey is imperative.

"It allows a little more independence for me, a little more freedom, not to mention a buddy," says Ned Sullivan.

For Sullivan, it looks to be match made in heaven.

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