MONKEY OWNERSHIP REALITY CHECKS (Tales from the downside)
"To insult someone we call him "bestial:. For deliberate cruelty "human" might be the far greater insult." Isaac Asimov - author
I am a happy monkey mom and yes, in spite of everything, I still believe wholeheartedly that monkey ownership should be permitted by qualified and responsible owners. However, it is not in the best interest of the monkeys that I love or potential caregivers for me to sugar-coat the experience in any way. My goal is to present honest facts and unbiased information so your decision will be an educated one.
The following letters were not written by me, but are first-hand accounts from primate owners and animal care professionals who very poignantly describe the downsides of obtaining a NHP as a companion. The stories are written in their own words and are unedited. They address the challenges all primate parents face as the monkey reaches adulthood. They shed some much needed light on the dark and often sleazy aspects of the monkey pet trade...as told by a breeder. They make for a good read and a true, unflinching reality check for people who feel that impulsively obtaining a primate is a good thing to do. I hope to discourage all but the most dedicated and well-informed from obtaining a monkey; not because I'm against private ownership, but because I love monkeys. Some of the stories are lengthy, but I assure you, well worth your time. These accounts also address some unpleasant facts that every potential monkey owner must be willing to accept: Monkeys are taken from their mothers at an early age and you become their life. This is a heavy responsibility that you have to face. What may happen to this monkey if you can't...or won't step up to that burden of care? Denial of the cold, harsh realities of re-homing and neglect don't change the facts. In the end, the common thread that bonds these tales is the stark honesty and raw emotion that every animal lover understands, and every monkey lover has to answer for.
The Story of Haji the Squirrel Monkey by Courtney Calhoun
Let me first start by saying that I did do a lot of research I even contacted breeders in my area to ask questions. And yes I heard both good and bad things about monkeys in general. I also heard that a Squirrel monkey would be easier for a first time monkey owner. When I bought Haji I was under the impression that as long as you spent a lot of time with the monkey, it would not turn to its natural aggressive behavior. I brought Haji home when he was 7 weeks old an I must say he was the most adorably sweet animal that I had ever laid eyes on. He loved my whole family especially my mother because she was the one who fed him the most when I was at school and since she stayed home. I even kept him on formula till he was 1 and 1/2 years in hopes to keep him sweet and delay his growth into an adult which every monkey grows into. Unfortunately for me when Haji hit 2 years his aggressive behavior began to show. Haji slowly began to bite me whenever I would restrain him. This is a difficult thing when owning a monkey because if you can't hold him how can you put a diaper or leash on him? When Haji was about two and a half he was no longer allowed to have playtime in the house, because I could no longer diaper or leash him with out getting bit. His play area was now limited to the outside patio which he did not seem to mind. But now that Haji is a little over 3yrs. I am scared of him. He is so sweet but unexpectedly he turns into a violent animal and bites my hand fiercely without reason. For example, we'll be sitting on the patio sofa playing he'll be holding my hands and kissing them basically being affectionate and out of no where I'll be screaming Haji STOP and he won't let go. When he latches on he twists and turns his whole body. The pain of the bite doesn't even compare to the psychological pain I feel from being afraid of my beloved pet. I write people for help on ways to tame Haji and I never once have gotten a reply. I guess its because it is so common for monkeys to turn from sweet infants to aggressive adults. So any of you who are interested in a Pet Monkey keep in mind that you too one day may need to resort to keeping your monkey in a cage. And the pain of being afraid of this child which you raised and loved immensely will kill you inside.
The Story of Clarissa Sue By Kathy
I started my journey into having monkeys as pets about 10 years ago. I came home that day with a two-week-old marmoset. She was so small she rode home in my shirt pocket. I named her Clarissa Sue and I thought all of my prayers for a baby had been answered. She was very small and very cute and needed my every waking minute and a few of my sleeping minutes. We were inseparable from the very start.
I seemed to know instinctively how to care for her. I got the baby formula, a bed and a caring case. You see Clarissa was a triplet and the smallest one so the Mom cast her off and my friend had raised her to this point. Clarissa moved into my hair and there she lived. We had quite a few adventures together like the day she got lose in my friend's store and I had to move displays to get her back, and the day she got lose in the yard and my sister and I looked like the Keystone Cops chasing her. Then there was the day she jumped into my salad at a restaurant. What a mess. But all in all the first year and a half was quite fun.
About the time Clarissa Sue was becoming mature I found a sanctuary that had about 130 abandoned marmosets and tamarins and I started to do volunteer work there. That is where my real learning started. It was also the time Clarissa Sue started to mature. As she matured she started to bite my friends and family. I always knocked it off as they did something wrong because she was not biting me. Then the day came that Clarissa bit me and not a light bite but and antibiotic needing bite. By the time this happened I was raising other parent abandoned babies and Clarissa was helping me. She was a very good foster Mom and did all she was supposed to do.
That is when I learned about instincts. What I did not know was that monkeys have not been bred domestically long enough to breed out their instincts so Clarissa Sue knew what to do and just did it. Her instincts also told her, her life was not what it should have been and this caused frustration and aggression.
Make no mistake about it -- even a one pound monkey can cause a great deal of damage to any human fool enough to try and handle them. Clarissa and her sister double teamed me one day and almost got my eye and my juggler vein. I was lucky that day, I was fast enough to catch Clarissa Sue and deflect the bite from my eye, to my cheek, from her sister Annabelle Leigh.
I will never forget the last time I played with Clarissa Sue, and it still brings tears to my eyes. I was sitting in the safety room of her house and I let her come out to me and we played foot and tail. Our game of "I've got your foot, now I've got your tail." We use to play this for hours on end. We had just finished the game and I brought her up to give her a kiss and she bit my nose. I knew from that day to this that I would have to give up that part of my relationship with Clarissa Sue. She was lucky in that she has a great home with trees, sleeping and play areas and two playmates she loves spending time with. She is still living in my back yard and doing very well.....
An Email Correspondence After Being Attacked by a 'Pet' Monkey Name witheld by requet
I had just gotten off the phone and went in to change my capuchin "Rusty" and he attacked me the worst he has ever attacked me. My husband heard me screaming from outside and came in just in time to see Rus flying towards my face. Blood was everywhere -- my blood. My husband grabbed the baseball bat and knocked Rus off me into a chair and grabbed him by the neck as hard as he could and threw him back into his cage and rushed me to the hospital.
I had 31 bites and tears on both arms, hands, legs and my left ankle was hurt the worst and one bite to my left breast. He kept attacking relentlessly, screaming and coming at me. There was nothing whatsoever to provoke him. I had just finished changing his diaper, he wheeled around, grabbed the leash off the cabinet door and flew into me screaming and attacking. I'm hurt really bad this time, walking on crutches.
The authorities were called in, they know it is a monkey, pictures have been made of me and Rus, he has gone into quarantine and after six months, he is going to be put to sleep. They wanted to take his head immediately, and I told them they just could not do that, he is the center of a lawsuit. A set of the pictures, along with a letter is being sent to the USDA authorities now to show that this monkey is being passed from state to state and how vicious he is and unpredictable. The doctor said that because of the severity of the bites, had it been a 3 to 6, 7 or 8 year old child, it would have killed them or they would have needed some serious reconstructive surgery. Had he had his canines, I would have been hospitalized. I thought I looked bad the last time, but it does not even compare. Like my husband said, he would hate to think what would have happened if he had already left for work and wasn't here when it happened.
by Linda Barcklay, Director of Mindy's Memory Primate Sanctuary
Below is the pathologist's necropsy report on little Gidget. I wept reading it and knowing the despair… the boredom… the depression she felt being cold, underfed and undernourished.
Gidget was a macaque who had been confined in a garage for 10 years in a wire rabbit cage and her feces and urine were allowed to build up to such an extent, it scalded all the skin off her hip area. The hair finally grew back except for a large patch on the left side of her thigh.
Gidget was exposed to exhaust fumes for ten years… fed only this and that. She had no toys, no enrichment besides a dirty old blanket for comfort. Every major organ in her tiny body was diseased from lack of a proper diet and exposure to who-knows-what chemicals. She had no protection from winter's cold nor summer's heat, locked in a garage.
Gidget was removed from the garage by a woman who took her and kept in a basement for two more years before bringing her to the sanctuary.
Gidget enjoyed the best three weeks of her entire life here at the sanctuary. I still hear the happy chirps she made over her new diet because of the foods she had never before received.
Gidget was comforted and groomed by Katy, her new companion. Monkeys know when something is wrong and Katy never left her side. Katy's magic fingers! Little did I know that Gidget was dying… I thought she was just enjoying the sun on her body for the first time in too many years. Poor sweet girl.
I held her until she passed, and I had the satisfaction of giving her for three weeks, the best time of her entire life. She was with monkeys for the first time, and they loved her. Katy Jo groomed and groomed on Gidget. Gidget was so lethargic, but I know that Katy's little monkey fingers made her trip to the sky a peaceful time. I will miss her forever.
Poor Little Gidget was fodder for the pet trade!
NOTE: Gidget was re-homed I have no doubt that her original owners meant well and never intended her life to be so expendable. However, their good intentions didn't make Gidget's life any etter. Had they been better informed, they would have known that getting Gidget in the first place was totally inappropriate for their lives and she would have been spared.
The Story of Frankie
excerpts from a story as told by Christine Camps
I forget the year Frankie was born. I had him sold for $3000.00 dollars and I knew he was going to a home that would make him a pet: a 'family member'. I understood the buyer's feelings, the need to have a baby in her arms. After all, that is how I started with primates. The money collected would go to good use. Bigger and better cages, more fresh fruits and vegetables. Frankie was tiny and so cute in his little Pampers. I had picked the perfect home for him.
A year later, I got a call about Frankie. His name was the same but he wasn't as little. He was in a new home now. His second one. Sold because the "perfect home" I had found decided they could not deal with monkey feces on the furniture and Frankie was getting quite independent, taking his diapers off and running through the home. He was a Java Macaque and the couple had decided a capuchin would probably fit their needs better. The new home had big ideas about how to train Frankie. They had heard when he was acting up if they put him in a dark closet for several hours so he would learn to calm down. The new "mommy" also told me how she loved him as if he were her child, and how she was determined to teach him not to bite. A monkey expert who has organ grinders had told her to just stick her finger down his throat when he bit and gag him. She was doing just that.
I started worrying about Frankie, and how it must have felt for him to be with a family for a year, then shipped off because he hated diapers. Learning all new rules in a new household. Trying to figure out where his place in the new human troop was. He never did. He became "out of control" by the age of two. He was sold again and again. Always into a home that wanted a monkey as a family member. A 'forever home', with promises of a wonderful life. He had been in many homes, in five states.
I was called by a woman in a panic: Janet had a Java Macaque loose in her home and she was terrified. She was told he came from me. Her house was a mess and she was locked in a bathroom with a male macaque named "Frankie" on top of her refrigerator. Her young children would be home from grade school soon. She had given a woman $1500.00 for this monkey and paid shipping. She was told he would be a loving monkey and she could dress him up and take him out. His name was Frankie". She couldn't even catch him.
My heart ached for Frankie. I knew I had to get him out of Janet's kitchen and out of the pet trade. It took a few hours to locate someone close enough to help. He went over to her house and caught the monkey and put him in a crate. Janet changed her mind about me taking Frankie back then. She would try to make him become her buddy. After all she had close to $2000.00 invested. Frankie lived in a shipping crate for weeks.
At the age of five he had never known any real freedom, never had a troop of his own, or joy in life. I found a road-side zoo that needed a male java for a lone female and talked Janet into taking him there. I called to check on him every once in a while. Frankie was a perfect monkey. He cowered in the corner of the cage as people stared at him. He never liked the female monkey. The owners called him a loner. I tried not to imagine him just sitting in the corner on the ground. But I felt he was safe now - better than the pet cycle. Two years later, when Frankie was seven, the road-side attraction closed. Frankie was shipped to Arizona to live with a woman who boasted of macaque experience. She had three already living in crates in her kitchen. Her husband was a truck driver and when they went on the road they just loaded the crates in the back of the truck and took everyone with them.
She contacted me to lament that Frankie was not impregnating her females. She would tranquilize him and place him in a crate with a female for days at a time. Her complaint: He just sat there, facing the plastic crate wall, sometimes grooming himself until he bled. A few times he would fight with a female, and a vet would be called to stitch them up. Listening on the phone to the way Frankie's life was drifting away, made me remember the day I took this baby from his mother. For $3000.00 I had given Frankie seven years of hell.
I lost track of the woman and all her kitchen macaques.
Two and a half years later, I was not selling very many monkeys; the phone calls were tiring me. Frankie was just one of many. A broker from Miami called me and asked me to buy three adult macaques that were coming in the next day from Hawai'i. They were perfect breeders, donated to a monkey retirement sanctuary in Hawai'i with a baby; but the receiver only wanted the baby. For the others, it would be a turn around flight back to the mainland. They were actually sold to the broker in Miami before they arrived in Hawai'i. I didn't buy them, but agreed to pick them up at the airport and house them till he sold them.
At the airport, I paid little attention to the crated macaques. Trying to avoid the stench, I rolled the windows down. I did notice that one looked very old. Arthritis, maybe.
Back at my facility, I started going through the paperwork. I came to the male's crate and started reading. Written by hand it started out: "My name is Frankie. I am 9 years old. I was born at Exotic Cargo in Fla." I fell to my knees and looked in the crate through the wire, at this shell of a monkey, his hollow eyes, his head hanging down showing his submission, his crooked bones protruding. His stubbed teeth, dark and decayed. I sobbed, I cried so loud and so long, I screamed at God, asking how He could let this happen. I hated everyone who had touched this primate's life for the injustice each had wreaked. The world was my enemy. I was filled with a hate and rage beyond description. And then it dawned on me.
That cliché "The buck stops here" echoed in my mind. I am the one who started this cycle of abuse, and I would have to face it. Frankie would stay with me.
It took two years to get Frankie to climb or take interest in the fresh air. To keep him from self-mutilating, I distracted him with a TV, on all day and all night, and covered in plastic when it rained. A few times, I slept outside at his cage, making promises I knew I would have to keep.
Frankie has stopped grooming to the point he bleeds. He will never be a normal monkey, but he is safe. He is my teacher, my guilt, my sorrow, and my salvation. He saved the lives of many primates born here.
Monkeys are not the problem, but owners who acquire a primate casually without researching the proper care of the species. People who get a monkey without knowing a thing about them are going to run into problems, especially if they got the monkey and leave it alone all day. Aggression can occur with any animal, including humans. Monkeys CAN be trained not to bite, but they require A LOT of social interaction and enrichment. A monkey will bite if provoked, again, as will any animal. Monkeys actually have a flight response. If they escape, the primate will run up a tree or other tall object, until the owner can fetch it. They are not predators. All the monkey owners I know (over 20) don’t have a biting problem with their monkey(s). They established themselves as Alpha in the primates’ adolescent years and through an enriching and nurturing relationships have tamed their monkey. But it takes time..... lots of time.
Epiphany Monkey By Cindy Carroccio
I am afraid I have to admit having been to the "dark side" of primate pet trade. When I started my facility I thought I needed a monkey for "education". I also figured that I would need an infant so I could raise/train him the way I needed to.
I gave little thought to the sequence of events that would lead up to the moment I took possession of the little monkey, So I called a dealer I found in Animal Finders Guide. They listed that they did have infant primates for sale. I wanted a capuchin, figuring they would be easy to get and relatively inexpensive.
Well, guess what? He didn't have any capuchins but he did have a baby girl patas monkey. She was located down in South Texas at a breeder's place. I didn't really have a clue what a patas monkey was and asked if she would make a good education animal. He assured me she would. I looked her up in a primate book and found out they were native to Kenya so figured she would acclimate fine to this climate. Obviously, my brain wasn't firing all cylinders.
Anyway, made arrangements to meet the breeder/dealer at a convenience store located somewhere in the vicinity of his place. He shows up with a tiny monkey only 7 days old. He had her in a towel and was holding a baby bottle. He said, "You know how to feed a monkey, right?" This was the extent of our verbal exchange ever. I assured him I did and I handed over the cash as was required by the guy. It felt like a drug deal.
All the way home (three hour drive) the baby screamed. I couldn't believe this tiny creature the size of a Barbie doll had that kind of lung capacity. But I couldn't hold her as I was driving and felt it safer to just put the pedal to the metal and get home as quickly as possible.
Upon arriving at home, I took her into my room, closed the door and got her a bottle ready. She flew out of the carrier and tried to hide under the covers on the bed. I grabbed her and tried to feed her. I figured it had been at least 4 hours since her last feeding so she has to be hungry, right? Well, she wouldn't take the bottle. I'd raised enough orphan deer fawns to note that this baby has never been on a bottle. My brain started working again and it dawned on me that this man had ripped the baby from her mommie right before I showed up at the store!
Well, Mabel (that's the name we gave her) didn't take her bottle she passed out cold! I freaked! I called the vet and scheduled an appointment. Right before we were to go to the vet she woke up. She looked at me, didn't scream and took the bottle. Needless to say, we did keep the appointment anyway. Good thing, too, as she was riddled with internal parasites at 1 week old! The vet said this meant that the mom is also loaded with worms.I was livid! How could anyone sell a sick animal, much less breed a sick animal?
Mabel became my "epiphany" monkey. She opened my eyes and I became this breeder's worst nightmare. I did some investigating and lo and behold the bastard wasn't even licensed. No wonder he didn't want me to see his place. But since I was USDA licensed I called my inspector and she was happy to get the news as they were looking for him. Seems he had some bonobo chimps and other animals. Well, long story short, he got in big trouble and will never be able to get a license again. I personally hope he has come down with a nice case of internal parasites. Serves him right.
And Mable never did make an education animal. She has two former pet patas monkey friends and they are all little She Devils. Not their fault. I guess, I take it back, Mabel is an education animal. She is an ambassador to why primates do not make good pets! And that the primate trade is riddled with scum.
An Excerpt from a Paper on Primate Ownership by Dr. Shirley McGreal, Chairwoman of the International Primate Protection League
An ongoing case involved a Brooklyn family who actually consider that they "adopted" their pet Diana monkey, whom they purchased from a dealer when she was a baby. The animal's origin is not clear. If she was caught in the wild, someone had shot her mother to get her. No primate mom would ever hand over her baby - in fact, when baby primates die, their mothers often carry them around for days trying to restore life to their bodies. And, when a mother primate dies, her sub-adult offspring often lose the will to live and join her in death. If the pet Diana was born in captivity, her mother and other members of her group would have to be tranquillized to kidnap her. The Brooklyn family who bought her dressed her in diapers and human clothing. But, then the family got a wave of media sympathy when New York State authorities tried to move her to a sanctuary, the cage in the background was visible on TV. That's where the monkey would spend her nights - alone, and no wild baby monkey ever sleeps alone."
"Before she was two years old, this family took two steps to having a designer pet - designed for docility - they had her uterus and ovaries removed and had all her canine teeth extracted. Anyone doing this to a pre-pubertal human child would be in trouble." "Later on this family will have trouble as their monkey matures. Even if the human family provided appropriate food and medical care, it can't provide for a monkey's sexual needs. That's when the biting and destructiveness gets really serious and the monkey is likely to be discarded, to a sanctuary if she's lucky, or maybe to a lab or back into the breeding/dealing cycle."
Even people who do not oppose monkeys (and apes) being held in captivity by private individuals often realize that there are grave consequences to the erred belief that monkeys can be "trained" to behave like human children.
Upon being asked if he is familiar with situations in which monkeys are acquired to act as surrogate children, Kevin Ivester, a former board member of the Simian Society of America, commented, "I know of numerous examples and also know that in most cases disappointment will be the end result for the human and displacement (following mutilation, both physically and mentally) of the monkey, either to other homes, sanctuaries or to the 'great beyond'."
Little Girl Lost By Christine J. Camp
3 a.m.: My phone rang and I jumped up from a sound sleep with a racing heart. Who died or had an accident? I fumbled in the darkness. "Hello?"
The voice on the other end was cracked and raspy. I could tell she was crying but had no idea who she was. "Are you the woman who helps monkeys?" she asked. I tried to wake up and get my mind organized as I do get many calls from new monkey moms who worry when the infant coughs or gets hiccups. I remember when I bought my first one in 1969 and no one wanted to talk to me and answer my stupid questions. So I have always tried to be congenial and patient with the new owners. They already had the monkey; why not at least try to give them good advice?
She continued with her problem. "I have a seven year old Rhesus girl that is very sick and I need to place her somewhere." "What's wrong with her?" I asked. She stated she really didn't know; possibly she was just depressed because she was forced to live in her garden shed for the last several months. She told me she had been going to the shed, trying to give her a bottle as often as possible after work, but she was refusing to eat now. It has been three days and she won't even get up.
I asked her if she had contacted a vet. "No, my husband refuses to spend any more money on her and he just wants to euthanase her.". I inhaled deeply. "What can I do to help you?"
She sobbed louder and wailed, "Just take her and take care of her, I love her and it will kill me to give her up, but it's not fair to make her stay in that shed!" I said I would take her, but she needed immediate vet care. But could I take her now? Could she die?
We talked about how to get her to me. I ran names through my mind: Whom could I ask to help? But few want to help with Macaques. I told the woman -- who had blocked her phone number and not told me her name -- that I would meet her half-way. That would be about in New Orleans, La. I also told her we needed to do this now. She agreed.
I started dressing while I was still talking to her. My mind raced back to my breeding days and I tried to remember if I had sold a Rhesus baby seven years ago. No, she couldn't be one of mine. Thank God.
"Do you want me to put a diaper on her?" I said no, that wasn't necessary. Then she told me it would stay on as she had her tail removed so the diapers fit better. My heart sank; I had heard of this practice but had never actually seen it with my own eyes. It was easy to pretend it doesn't really happen when you have never seen it. I assured her a diaper-less monkey was fine. I gave her two cell phone numbers and was in my car within the hour. In the darkness I started thinking: This could be a prank. But I could hear the cries and they seemed real, so I kept going. I drove for a few hours before she called again. The sun was shining; I had come at least 150 miles. Stopped for gas and six bottles of Pedialyte She was more in control now and I thought she had changed her mind. But she had fought with her husband and she could not make the trip. I pulled over to the side of the interstate. I tried hard not to show my anger. My anger for her abuse toward this monkey she claimed to love as much as she loved her daughter and my anger for letting me get this far on the road before calling. She would call her best friend and see if she would meet me. I drove to the next rest area and stopped. I thumbed through my address book looking for a vet in New Orleans and found two. Finally she called back. Her friend would meet me. She was packing a diaper bag with bottles and baby food. "Peaches is all she will eat." I asked her about solid foods. No, she has had no teeth since age three, and still drinks formula. I sighed…a toothless, tail-less monkey who had not eaten in three days….now four.
I continued to drive and finally stopped in New Orleans for the night. Exhausted, I checked into the motel. But I couldn't sleep. She called again early the next morning. Her friend was there. She was unsure if she was doing the right thing. I controlled myself, determined to convince her she was doing a wonderful deed by removing the monkey. I asked her if the shed was air-conditioned or had windows: No, neither; but she had the crate facing the door and the door was cracked.
I went downstairs to meet the friend, and the teenage daughter with her. They seemed to not have a care in the world. They opened the back hatch and I looked in the crate, not knowing if the monkey would be dead or alive. I could only tell she was alive by her shallow breathing. She didn't move otherwise. She appeared to be staring at her hands so I looked at them. There were no tips on her fingers. I turned to the woman and asked what happened to her fingers. She replied, "Oh, she got in this scratchin' stage and her husband made her have them removed so she couldn't scratch." As I grabbed the crate from the back of her car she was telling me how she could still really pinch hard.
I put her in my SUV and tried to get information from the woman regarding the identity of the vet was who did this, but she would not say. I left.
I called several vets in the New Orleans area and no one would see a Macaque, a new patient. All had excuses. I finally got one to give me a health certificate, a horse DVM who didn't even look in the crate. I drove madly back to Florida, stopping only for gas and to try to give the primate drops of Pedialyte She refused, clinching her gums together to make sure not one little drop got into her mouth.
She lived almost a week in Florida. Her tail removal had caused severe spinal injury. My vet informed me she had a total hysterectomy not too long ago. But the cause of death was, basically, that she didn't want to live.
I cried over her lifeless body and tried to explain to her that it was all over and she was safe now. I begged her not to die. But she never even looked in my direction. A woman named Sue offered to devote her life to making her comfortable. But it was too late for her.I buried her on the South side of my facility and placed a rock there, as a marker. A reminder to me of why I am hardened and cold with little tolerance for many private owners. When I need strength to keep fighting for the primates all I must do is gaze that direction and see that stone. I was naïve as I though the people I sold to loved like I do. I need non human primates in my life because I love them. Some people who obtain monkeys have no concept of what love is.
The Story of Koto By Angel
My mother called me “monkey child”, recounting tales of me at nine months old, vaulting out of my crib like a gymnast, at two, climbing the high ladder at a bookstore and scaring all the employees, by four, climbing trees with the speed and skill of a predatory feline. She told tales of taking me to the zoo as a baby, how all the monkeys would crowd the glass to stare at me, wail and dance, seemingly recognizing one of their own offspring.
Perhaps these stories are what made me feel almost spiritually connected to monkeys. Or perhaps that was just my nature. I collected stuffed monkey toys, glass figurines, books and magazine articles. I drew pictures of them and slept with one as big as a person, a gorilla stuffed animal named “Earl”. And as I got older, I started asking for one as a pet.
I researched different kinds of monkeys and settled on a capuchin. I learned about what they would eat, what kind of care they would need, and found a vet not too far away, who would treat them. Then, I started saving money.
I went to school and worked part-time at the mall as a surveyor. It took me two years to save up two thousand dollars, the cheapest price I had ever seen them listed at. I knew I would need at least a few hundred dollars more for food, bottles, diapers, toys, a bed, cage and the initial cost of shots and medical examination. And then I knew I would have to keep working, to save money for future vet care. I knew what I was getting into. I was as responsible as I could possibly be, and yet… my story would still end in heartbreak.
I still love monkeys… but in a different way, a better way. And in order to stress the importance of leaving monkeys free and wild… I wanted to share my story with others. To end their suffering… and ours.
When I had two thousand, three hundred dollars, I bought a large cage at a garage sale. It was five feet tall and three feet wide with two different “floors” connected by a ramp. I filled it with toys that were safe for babies, toys of bright color and incredible softness. I slept with all the bedding for a week to imprint my scent on it. Then I took out the middle “floor” that divided the cage into two and put in clean tree limbs, three and four feet tall, ones with plenty of branches, trimming off anything that might hurt my new pet.
My parents had always said no, but by the time I had saved the money I was nineteen, and going to college. I still lived with them, but after two years of saving money, and showing incredible patience and responsibility, they could no longer say no. I had already selected a breeder, but I was disappointed when I called her to find she no longer bred capuchins. I had to research other breeders, suddenly aware that all my information was two years out of date. I finally found a breeder, four hours away, who had a three-week old male capuchin ready for a new home, but he was five-thousand dollars.
“I can give you two.” I said, begging her. I promised her I would get the rest to her, I swore up and down that I would work day and night to pay him off, that I would do anything. She remained stoic until I told her that I had been saving for two years, that I had a vet lined up and a beautiful cage ready. Then she relented a little, and said I could have him for three thousand dollars if I signed a contract promising to pay her five-hundred dollars a month for the next four months.
Well! If that didn’t take some fancy footwork! I begged my parents for help. They gave me a hundred dollars as an early Christmas gift. I begged everyone else, swearing they would have to get me nothing for Christmas, swearing I would pay them back. At the end, all my begging got me up to two thousand, four hundred dollars. It wasn’t enough. I prayed for a solution. In the end, I sold my computer, a practically new system that my grandmother got for me for college, knowing that if she found out she would be livid, but I had the money I needed, and to me, the trade off was well worth it.
I drove out to the breeder one cold December morning, only two weeks before Christmas, so excited I could scarcely breathe. It was snowing outside, the world was beautiful. I had a basket in the front seat filled with blankets, a few toys, and one big soft stuffed monkey for my baby to hold onto on the ride home.
The breeder, Paula, lived way out in the country in one of those rambling trailer houses that used to be mobile, but had been added onto so many times that you had to call it a house. There was a big sun porch on the side of the house and I could see cages stacked floor to ceiling there.
I knocked on the door and Paula opened it, I recognized her from her picture on the internet. She had, what I thought was a baby, swaddled in her arms, a blanket wrapped bundle, and then she said, “Meet your new baby.” She held him out to me and I took him and peeled back the blanket.
It was love at first sight! I can’t even describe the feelings that washed over me as I saw him, staring up at me, trustingly, sucking his thumb, like a human infant. He was so incredibly light, and smaller than I had realized he would be. I could have held him in the palm of one hand. He was wearing a diaper and a white t-shirt with a blue duck on the front. I actually cried.
I was giving her the money, proudly holding my new pet when Paula discussed future care with me. She said I could bring him back anytime to get his canine teeth, nails and testicles removed, all for only five-hundred dollars. And if I wanted, she could dock his tail right there for an extra twenty. I was horrified.
“Why would you want to do that?”
She told me it would make diaper changing easier, that I wouldn’t have to cut holes in them before I put them on. I thought it sounded like a terrible, cruel thing to do all to save myself the trouble of snipping a hole in the back of a diaper.
She gave me papers showing that he was healthy and had been vaccinated. They looked like something printed off a home computer, crude and filled with typos. It was then that I became suspicious.
I thanked her and left. I put Koto (as I named him immediately) into the basket but he started to cry when I set him down. I was shocked at how much he sounded like a human child. Unable to tolerate his mournful wails I lifted him up and placed him against my chest, he curled his tiny hands into my sweater and quieted, hanging onto me. I draped a blanket over him and drove away, heading for home.
Koto was quiet the whole way home, hanging onto my sweater front and looking around in wonder, but never making a sound. When I got home I carried him inside and showed him all around the house, saving his cage for last.
“Don’t worry, you won’t be spending much time in there.” I promised him. “You’ll never leave my side.” It was not a promise I would be able to keep.
I took him to the vet I had lined up later that day and told him my suspicions about the breeder. He said he would see to it that she was investigated, and confirmed that my health and vaccination records were fraudulent. He ran a complete exam on Koto, worried that a poor breeder would produce unhealthy animals. I knew monkeys could transfer human diseases, and that if Koto had parasites or herpes, he would need expensive treatment, and quarantine. I prayed that everything would come out okay. Miraculously, it did. Koto was healthy.
Over the next two weeks, Koto never left me. He clung to the front of my shirt or hair all the time, crying even when I took him down to feed him or change him. I only put him in clothes for photos, otherwise worrying he would be too warm. I became a pro at snipping holes in diapers and seethed at the thought of anyone torturing an animal just to avoid this two-second chore.
I bathed him often and we learned our first game. I would say, “Koto kisses!” And he would kiss me, then he would hoot and squeak, and I would kiss him. We could play this for hours.
Then it was time for me to go back to school, by then I had been contacted by the authorities and the ASPCA about Paula. She was shutdown and heavily fined, I would not be obligated to pay her any further. This was happy news for me, and yet, I wondered what would happen to all the poor monkeys who lived under her care?
I left Koto with my parents when I went to school. I called in the middle of the day to check on him and I could hear him WAILING! My mother sounded very harried and said he was inconsolable, he wouldn’t eat, and he bit them if they tried to pick him up. I rushed home as fast as I could go and I swear Koto LEAPED into my arms as soon as I walked through the door.
After that, I was the “monkey girl” again because I took Koto to school with me. I took him in a carrier on my chest at first. I was sure I would be told he couldn’t be there, but my professors never said a word, making just as much as a fuss over him as the students. Koto made me famous!
When Koto got a little bigger, he wouldn’t tolerate the carrier anymore and he sat on my shoulder through each class, “grooming” me or playing with one of his toys.
I talked to Koto all the time, he was my best friend and constant companion. I took him into stores with me on a harness sitting on my shoulder and no one ever said he couldn’t be there. Children were drawn to him like a magnet, but I was fearful Koto would bite or scratch them, and I would be sued. I was so afraid of this happening, that I only let people touch him if he went to them first.
While I did my homework each night, Koto would sit complacently nearby screwing and unscrewing the cap of a water bottle, an activity that seemed to fascinate him. He would sometimes reach out a furry little hand and filch my pen or pencil, but I don’t think he wanted to play with them, I think he just wanted me to pay attention to him instead of that boring piece of paper!
Koto slept curled up in my hair. At first I was afraid I would roll over and crush him, trying to insist he sleep in his cage, but I would always wake up with him curled in my hair, so eventually, I let him do it without protest.
Koto was always learning new tricks. He took great delight hiding beneath the fold of a towel or blanket. I would pretend I couldn’t find him and then he would hop out hooting and chirping and of course, I had to act very surprised and happy.
I was paranoid, at first, about letting him outside without being on a harness. But he was a little escape artist, finding ways outside whether I wanted him to or not, and eventually, I became used to it. He would climb around the trees in the front yard, sometimes sitting up there, still as a stone for hours, or play around on the cars in the driveway. But he always came back when he was tired of it, and soon enough, I kept my window open a bit so he could come and go as he pleased.
Koto was always very concerned when I took a shower. He would sit on the toilet, cocking his head in puzzled amazement as I willingly walked under the spray of water, and sometimes begin to shriek in terror, leaping at the door and hanging onto the towel rack as though trying to rescue me, especially if I started singing. I would open the door to let him in, but as soon as he felt the rush of water he would rocket off like a pin ball, shrieking and wailing as though I had hit him.
One day, when Koto went outside to play, and didn’t come back for several hours, I got worried. I went outside and looked all over but I didn’t see him anywhere. As night fell, I grew frantic. Koto had never been out at night before by himself. I called and called for him, but he did not come.
I was inconsolable that night, unable to sleep without the presence of Koto tangled in my hair. I paced and cried and prayed. Then late in the middle of the night, very softly, so quiet I could barely hear it at all, I heard the sound of his wailing.
I tore outside and strained my ears, wearing only my nightgown, shivering in the cold of an October night. No, I had not imagined it, I could still hear him. I followed the wails down the street to a neighbors’ house and there, found the two young boys who lived there trying to quiet him as they attempted to stuff him into an animal carrier. I was livid! I rushed forward and yelled at them and Koto wrapped around me, shivering and crying. The boys ran off and I pounded on the front door and told their parents what had happened. The next day they came with their sons and made them apologize. The boys had apparently lured Koto over to them with food and had tied him up in the garage, hoping to keep him. Then when he was being too loud in the garage, they decided they would put him in the pet carrier and bury it with blankets to muffle his wails. They each had quite a few bites and scratches, but the parents did not blame Koto. He was only trying to get away from his kidnappers. I shivered to think what would have happen if they had succeeded in their plan. Koto would have been suffocated.
Koto didn’t like strangers after that. He was still fine at school, because he knew everyone there, but he became mistrustful of people he had not seen, and downright aggressive toward children.
I was so mad! I couldn’t take Koto to the store anymore, the clouds of children attracted to him drove him into a frenzy, and I had no doubt he would bite them if given the chance.
Now whenever I went somewhere public, I left Koto in the car. He retaliated by chewing the seats, taking off his diaper and smearing poop around the car, and destroying anything I had left lying around.
Eventually, I had to leave him at home when I went out, aside from school.
I never completely forgave those boys, they had ruined Koto’s perfect temperament.
Aside from his hatred of children and strangers, Koto remained a perfect delight well into his “adolescence.” I had read that monkeys can grow aggressive when they reach three or four years of age, but Koto did not. He rarely bit or scratched me, and when he did, it was never severe.
When I graduated college, I moved out and took Koto with me. There were few apartments that would accept me bringing a monkey into the picture, so my search for a home took considerably longer than normal. When I did finally find a place that didn’t mind, I had to put down double the pet and security deposit and provide them with copies of his vaccination and health records.
By five years old, Koto was still the perfect pet, and had not cost me all that much in terms of vet care. But then he picked up a very… disturbing habit. Koto started masturbating. I knew monkeys were capable of it, but I had never seen him do it before, and I realized he was reaching sexual maturity. I asked my vet if having him neutered would help, but he said it wasn’t definite. Primates, like humans, copulate for enjoyment, not just reproduction. Even neutered, Koto could still very likely have sexual urges.
The only surefire way to qualm Koto’s desire to copulate would be a complete removal of a testicles. The idea made me immensely uncomfortable, and even my vet admitted, he did not like doing it. It was traumatizing for the animal, a long, painful recovery, and very expensive. But if I didn’t do something to help him, Koto could grow sexually frustrated, and then aggressive. He would also be unhappy, and that wasn’t cool with me.
I began contacting breeders around the state, asking if I could stud Koto. They all already had their own breeding pairs, and since they didn’t know Koto, didn’t want him impregnating their monkeys. A couple of them said they would let Koto mate, but they wouldn’t pay me. And, I was aware it was a temporary fix, something that my vet warned me, might only whet his sexual appetite.
Left with few options, I finally, uneasily, decided to have Koto’s testicles removed. A decision I will always regret.
Koto’s surgery was complicated by his sensitivity to the anesthesia, something they didn’t know about until they already had him under. His heart stopped beating early into the surgery and they had to bring him back, twice.
The surgery took a long time, and when it was done, I went to see him in the OR recovering cage. He was very limp and drowsy, and not at all like himself. I cried and told him I was sorry.
Koto’s recovery took a long time, and paying for his post-operative care was not easy. Once Koto’s physical wounds had healed, I assumed he would return to the gentle, loving animal I had cared for since he was three weeks old, but Koto would never be himself again. Koto might have physically recovered, but his spirit was damaged.
He became quiet and withdrawn. He bit me more often, and my wounds were more serious than they had ever been in the past. He did not want to play, his appetite failed, and he spent more and more time laying on the floor of his cage, depressed, and embittered.
He hated the vet after that, growling and showing his teeth whenever he saw him. He probably would have bit him if he could, but the vet knew how Koto felt about him, and took extra precautions to avoid self injury.
It broke my heart to see Koto so unlike himself. I kept waiting for him to “recover” but he never did, growing, with each day, more and more wild and uncontrollable. He began to groom himself to the point of bleeding, bald patches and sores breaking out over his little body. He was too thin and would eat only when I forced him to.
Then one day, I was trying to force him to eat something and he lashed out at me. He grabbed my hand and bit down HARD on the skin between my thumb and forefinger. I cried out and he darted off down the hall like a shot. I stared at my hand in disbelief, the skin hanging off and blood pouring all over the floor. The pain was incredible.
I wrapped my hand in a towel, cussing and crying. I had never felt such pain and I knew I needed medical treatment. But I also knew they might take Koto away, might kill him. And I couldn’t stand that.
I doctored my hand myself, washing it all the time, and using gauze, tape and butterfly strips to put my skin back together. I was afraid of Koto, but I was trying not to be. I tried to treat him the same, tried to play with him and encourage him to eat, but I was always on the defensive, ready to jerk away from him. I also stopped being dominant, cowering away from him, giving him commands in a weak, frightened voice. Koto began trying to exert dominance on me, sensing my weakness, smelling my fear. He would growl and hit at me, or scratch me If he didn’t get his way.
I loved Koto. But I was afraid of him, and it wasn’t going to get better. On top of that, my hand was infected, it felt numb and lifeless where he had bit me, and the skin was a strange color, white and dying. I had to go to the doctor.
I lied to them when I got there. I told them I had cut myself with a knife by accident. I could tell they didn’t believe me, but they couldn’t force me to tell them the truth. My hand was infected, and badly. It took weeks of antibiotics and doctor’s appointments, twenty stitches and countless cleanings before it was healed. But like Koto, my spirit was damaged. I could no longer love Koto as I once had. Our relationship was reduced to one of fear and violence. If I got too close I received a switch scratch or bite, nothing like what he had done to my hand, but enough to make me remember it.
I considered the unthinkable. I considered having his canine teeth removed, his claws amputated. But I knew I could not do that to him. It was my meddling with him in the first place that had spoiled his temper. I had tormented and deformed him, for what I thought, was his own good. But it had caused irreparable damage, and now, we would never be the same.
The end came one gloomy day in fall. He was almost six years old. I came into the living room and found him smearing poop from his diaper on the couch. I yelled at him and he turned on me like a wild animal, how could I have forgotten that, that is what he was all along? I was blessed to have this bit of wild nature on my side for so long. But nature is unpredictable, and dangerous. And as much as I loved Koto… so was he. He was a wild thing, a creature ruled by millions of years of instinct.
All of this went through my head in the seconds before he was on me, biting and clawing and screaming. I was stunned, I wanted to beat him off of me but I couldn’t hit him. I tried to restrain him and felt his teeth sinking into my arms, his claws ripping at my shoulders. Then he darted off, like a cork out of a champagne bottle and exploded out the window.
I went to the hospital, I told them I had been attacked by a dog. They sewed up my arms, doctored my shoulders, telling me I would need rabies shots if they couldn’t find the dog. It took fifty-two stitches to close all my wounds. I was at the hospital overnight on IV antibiotics. I got a tetanus shot and a medical bill for three thousand dollars. I cried. The same amount of money I had paid for Koto. When I got home, Koto was in his cage, grooming himself bloody. He went into a frenzy when I came into the room and I knew he would attack me again so I shut the cage door. He went even more berserk, having never been caged before. All night he wailed and shrieked, growling and hissing. I sat in the corner of my room and cried.
The next day I called my mother. Although Koto had never bonded to her as he had to me, he had always been friendly and lovable with her. She was afraid to try and calm him, but I knew there was no one else I could count on. As soon as she came in Koto calmed down. I left the room and listened through the door as she whispered to him. She was shocked and angered to see me so battered, but she knew how important Koto was to me.
Eventually I cracked the door and peeked inside. My mother was holding Koto and he was holding onto her as though her were a baby again. My mother took him home with her.
He has been there for two years now. Whenever I go to visit him he growls at me through the bars of his cage. I talk to him sometimes for long hours, reading to him and offering treats. Sometimes, when he seems calm enough, I let him out and we play peek-a-boo or kiss-kiss, but it’s not the same, and it will never be the same as it was. Eventually I do something that rubs him the wrong way and he bites me and runs away. I know he can never be in my home again.
My parents take good care of him, but they do not try to forge a bond with him, knowing it would only lead to heartache.
Hope Walker, Executive Director of The Primate Conservation & Welfare Society based in Port Townsend, Washington, offers the following information regarding the trade in old world monkeys acquired to be "pets":
The trade in non-human primates is simply tragic. The tragedy begins when a prosimian, monkey or ape is taken from the wild --such as rhesus macaques, a species which is imported for biomedical research and often dumped into the pet trade -- are then bred for the pet trade. Imagine the horror that these beings suffer, being stolen from their troops, to spend years languishing in a lab and then be sent to a "pet" breeder who repeatedly steals their infants.
The infants are bottle fed and, if they survive, find themselves on the open market, through live auctions and ads in trade magazines, newspapers or the Internet. When purchased, often for $6000 - $50,000 or more, they are shipped off to the new owners, who usually have learned the little they know from pro-pet primate organizations and the breeder that sold them the animal in the first place. As the monkey or ape grows, if it survives the trauma of losing its mother and the shipment, it matures into a wild animal capable of great damage to person and property, not to mention the very serious concerns regarding zoonotic diseases such as Herpes B, which is fatal to humans and which can lie undetected in Asian species of macaques for years. When the "pet" begins to bite, scratch, or otherwise attack, the owner either mutilates the poor being by removing its uterus, teeth and/or finger nails, or dumps it on a sanctuary.
Unfortunately the sanctuary "solution" is about to run out for these owners -- the few legitimate sanctuaries for non-human primates in the United States are either almost at capacity or at capacity and we believe something must be done. Our organization is taking a two-pronged approach to the problem -- education and sanctuary. We have developed an information kit, with fact sheets and a mini-poster, in order to educate the public, and we are actively working to raise funds in order to build a primate sanctuary, whose function will be to offer permanent, species specific sanctuary to ex-pet and biomedical non-human primates.
All things considered, it is usually a 'Lose-Lose-Lose-Win' situation when individuals acquire monkeys to be "pets". The monkey's biological mother loses when her baby is torn from her breast to be sold as a "pet". The surrogate parent often loses when the monkey matures and becomes unmanageable. The monkey usually looses by having her/his instincts stifled; by not receiving proper care; when inappropriate harsh discipline is administered in attempts to control the monkey; and through surgical mutilation, such as tooth removal. The only "winner" in this scenario is the dealer or breeder who profited handsomely from selling the baby monkey
From Darkness Into the Light
By. R. Gusack
I purchased Tyler in June 1995 from a pet store in Las Vegas, Nevada. My friend Vinny and I were on vacation when we happened upon Tyler in a pet shop we were strolling through. It was love at first sight when we laid eyes upon him and he seemed so much like the "baby" we dreamed of having. Tyler would look up at us and suck his thumb. He was wearing a diaper. He lay on the back of a teddy bear, hugging it tightly. The manager of the store let us hold him and he would cry when we put him down. We saw him for the first time on a Friday, stopped back to see him on Saturday and decided that we could not leave without him.
Now that I know better, I have come to realize that all the adorable baby-like behaviors we were observing were actually the result of negative traumas which Tyler experienced around the time of his birth. The constant thumb sucking, crying and clutching at a stuffed animal were all abnormal behaviors that result when breeders ruthlessly tear monkeys from their mother's arms at too early an age and place them on an artificial mother substitute.. In the wild monkeys typically nurse and cling to their mother's backs for up to two years. Tyler was only four weeks old when I bought him.
It did not take long after bringing Tyler home to realize that no healthy baby would behave the way that this creature behaved. Within two years of our raising him he would tear off diapers as quickly as we would put them on him, destroy some of our most cherished possessions and brutally attack Vinny whenever he would tell him to behave. Yet Tyler had become a part of me and I could not imagine parting with him under any circumstances. While Tyler bit both my parents and my lover, he had never attacked me for the first five years that I raised him. I deluded myself into thinking that there was a special bond between Tyler and I and that he would never show anything other than his gentle and loving side to me. Reality set in on the fourth of July weekend in 2000 when I told Tyler that he could not bite apart a straw rocking chair I had in my family room. Upon hearing me say the word "NO," he proceeded to start biting into me. I panicked and for the first time of my life I was petrified of him. I called the police for help and they sprayed his eyes with mace to drive him back into his cage. I cried as he screamed over being shot at with mace.
Tyler's bites landed me in the emergency room and I was told how lucky I was. Had he bit just a bit further up my wrist he could have done the equivalent of slitting my wrist, I could have died. After the attack I could not get anywhere near Tyler. He would attempt to attack me as soon as I would approach his cage.
NOTE: At this time, Tyler is in a sanctuary and by all reports is healthy and doing doing well with other monkeys of his own species.
If you have general questions or need details about any of our products, or if you just need to "monkey" talk, please contact me at (253) 862-0432 or email me at LindaLawrence@aol.com If I'm unable to answer your questions, I'll do my best to direct you to someone who can.