Not Just Monkeying Around—Consider the Benefits of a Helping Hands Service Monkey

By Megan Talbert, Helping Hands Monkey Helpers

Editor's note: For 41 years, Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers trained capuchin monkeys to provide assistance to people with disabilities and they continue to support the human-monkey teams that they have already placed. Due to a number of federal and state laws that prohibit primates in homes, they are no longer training and matching monkeys. They continue to explore and advance the benefits of the human-animal interaction through advanced technology. 

Greetings from the world’s one and only Monkey College, located in Boston, Massachusetts, where Helping Hands’ staff and simian students are hard at work throughout the year! We’re thrilled to have a booth at this year’s Abilities Expo in Boston where we’ll also present a workshop on Friday, September 20th. We hope you’ll stop by to meet our staff and learn more about our program if you’re attending. Two years ago, we met one of our monkey recipients at the Abilities Expo in Atlanta; perhaps we’ll meet one of our next beneficiaries in Boston this time around!

Helper Monkey puts CD in device.

Not attending the Boston Abilities Expo? That’s ok. We want people throughout the country to know that Helping Hands always encourages new applicants who meet our eligibility requirements to contact us if you’re interested in learning more about our service monkey program, including the benefits and the requirements of daily life with a Helping Hands monkey.

Our recipients live with a wide variety of physical challenges. While people with spinal cord injuries (of all levels) are traditionally our most common applicants, we also routinely help people living with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and other illnesses or injuries that effect mobility. But what many people don’t know is that our service monkeys and lifetime support are free of charge to recipients—all of the costs (about $40,000 per animal) are covered by individual donors and foundation grants.

A monkey helper can assist with tasks such as: retrieving dropped or out of reach objects, helping with a drink of water, turning pages, scratching itches, pushing buttons and switches for remotes, phones, computers, etc., and even repositioning limbs on a wheelchair. It’s also important to note that our monkeys are trained to help recipients in the home environment only, so they are never in public places like grocery stores or restaurants with their human partners.

In addition to the helpful tasks the monkey helpers can accomplish with their recipients, there is the incredible benefit of the human-animal bond. Time and time again, we hear from our recipients that the companionship, love and laughter that results from sharing their life with one of our special monkeys is the most valuable part of the program!

Helping Hands

Curious about what makes an applicant a good fit for a monkey? First, all applicants must be adults since having a monkey is very much like having a small child and we need our recipients to be mature and stable enough to provide the right environment and structure for their service monkey to be successful. (For this reason, we don’t place monkeys in homes with kids under the age of 12.) Our recipients must also have unimpaired cognitive function and must be able to communicate verbally.

Furthermore, applicants must spend the majority of their time at home, so people who work full-time outside the home or full-time students are not eligible. That doesn’t mean, of course, that normal appointments and social engagements outside the home are a problem. The service monkey can safely stay at home while you are out and about and will be very happy to see you when you return! For a full list of our eligibility and application requirements, please visit

So now you must be thinking, “How would I ever learn to live with and take care of a monkey? That seems like a lot of work.” The short answer is yes, it is a commitment, but our staff at Helping Hands is there every step of the way to help you in your journey.

Michael and Helper Monkey

Beginning with the application process, through the placement week when our staff members travel to your home to train you and your family/PCAs on-site, and finally with very thorough post-placement support, Helping Hands is 110% committed to making our recipients confident and successful in their new relationship with a service monkey. And our organization maintains ownership of all of our animals throughout their lifetime, so if a placement must end due to recipient illness or life changes, the service monkey can come back to our facility to be placed again with another recipient.

For more insight into the process, watch Imagine a Monkey, a short film that follows two recipients from their application through their first year with a monkey.

We often hear from our recipients, “I never thought you’d pick me!” Many of our most successful new service monkey partners were once in your shoes wondering, “Is this right for me?” We encourage you to visit our website at or email if you’d like to learn more about our program.

We could have a service monkey in training RIGHT NOW who is the perfect match for you!


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