HELPING HANDS is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for quadriplegic individuals by training capuchin monkeys to assist them with daily activities. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to be a quadriplegic. Yet in a split second, it could happen to anyone. And when it does, people lose more than control of their arms and legs -they lose control of their lives. Each day becomes a challenge to regain that control and as much independence as possible. Our monkeys are affectionate, responsive friends whose companionship can brighten a disabled individual’s outlook on life, relieve hours of loneliness and help him become more independent.
Monkey helpers perform simple, every day tasks, such as getting something to eat or drink, retrieving dropped or out of reach items, assisting with audio cassettes, videocassettes, CDs, and books, turning lights on or off-tasks that we take for granted, and in many cases, our monkeys have enabled people to work from their homes.
Helping Hands charges no fees for its services and is largely supported by private contributions. Tragically, the median age of individuals when they are injured is twenty-six. The majority of injuries are the result of automobile collisions, falls, and diving accidents. Of the 250,000 quadriplegics in the United States, an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 are appropriate candidates and are highly motivated to use monkey helpers. As with Seeing Eye dogs, the level of injury, living situation, vocational activity, and attendant resources rule out other candidates. Once in their electric wheelchairs, many quadriplegics are left alone for as long as eight hours a day. Few have families that can be with them constantly, and fewer still can afford to pay full-time attendants. Monkey helpers are meant not to replace, but to supplement the assistance of family members or paid attendants who bathe, dress, feed, and otherwise attend to their needs each day.
Monkeys are devoted helpmates, giving their disabled companions independence, dignity, and love. They often describe the love they feel for their monkey as one would describe their love for a child. Background-The idea for monkey helpers occurred to Dr. M. J. Willard, a behavioral psychologist, while she was assisting an individual who was then recently paralyzed from the shoulders down in a car accident. Willard thought that an animal with hands, such as a capuchin or “organ grinder” monkey, could perform the simple tasks that a quadriplegic could no longer do for himself. Known for their manual dexterity and friendly disposition, capuchin monkeys are particularly well suited to be trained as monkey helpers.
Judi Zazula, an Occupational Therapist and Rehabilitation engineer, joined Willard in pursuing the idea, as she knew from her experiences what a difference an affectionate monkey could make to someone who was severely disabled. They placed Hellion, the first monkey helper, with Robert in 1979. Zazula, now executive director, has focused her attention on developing the foster family, training, and placement programs that allow capuchin monkeys to successfully assist disabled individuals.