Monkey Helpers Lend a 'Helping Hand' - 8 News NOW

Dr. David Marks, CBS News

Monkey Helpers Lend a 'Helping Hand'

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People who lost the use of their arms and legs face challenges the rest of us can hardly imagine. Some of them are unable to help themselves do most things. Now a unique program is offering a helping hand -- but patients have to be willing to except some monkey business.

Ayla is a Capuchin monkey, the same monkeys organ grinders used. But now, instead of doing frivolous tricks, these monkeys are being taught to be the arms and legs of people who've lost the use of their own. The program is called Helping Hands, a non-profit organization that trains monkeys in a facility called "Monkey College."

Robert Stern, with Helping Hands, says, "The apartment is just like a home, where you have all the distractions, but the monkey learns how to take food out of the fridge, put it in the microwave, heat it up. They learn all the things that are necessary."

It takes about 7 years to train each monkey, and during that time the staff observes the animal's personality so it can be placed with an appropriate client.

 Judi Zazula, with Helping Hands, says, "Every monkey is different, and we look at what they do quite well naturally, what they enjoy doing, and then we build on those abilities and then place them in a situation where those are the very things some people need some help with."

Jim Cesario works in the Mount Sinai Medical Center rehabilitation department. He says the program can help many of his patients. "It would increase their independence and that's key with anyone who has a disability, or a spinal cord injury is being able to do as much as you can without having to ask somebody."

And he says the companionship is an important part of therapy. "Besides getting this and fetching that and doing that, you look at them and there's a love, there's a bond," Jim Cesario added.

These monkeys can serve a patient for 25 to 30 years. That's 2 to 3 times longer than a seeing-eye dog.

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