Jennifer Dowdy is a placement trainer of capuchin monkeys,giving them practical and social skills to be helpers for people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. The program, called Helping Hands celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.
Capuchin monkeys are well-suited for this role. They're intelligent and seem to enjoy performing simple tasks. At six to eight pounds they're small enough to fit comfortably in most living spaces, and they live up to 40 years. They adapt well, transitioning from Helping Hands to the homes of recipients.
The human-animal bond is tremendous, and difficult to quantify, says Dowdy. Recipients appreciate the monkeys' help with tasks to regain a sense of independence, but beyond that, they cite companionship as the biggest impact on their lives.
Throughout training and placement, Helping Hands makes sure their monkeys are treated ethically. They eat a strict diet, and veterinarians on staff monitor their physical health, says Dowdy. We also ensure their emotional well-being by providing enrichment activities and making training fun.
Helping Hands relies on foundation grants and contributions from individual donors and is committed to funding each monkeys breeding, training, health care, and food for a lifetime. On average, that amounts to $38,000 per monkey. Recipients receive the monkeys for free.