Monkey Love

By: LaDonna Patrick (submitted by Michelle Smith with permission)


The reason for my writing this article is the hope that I can help someone else help a monkey.  I have tried to do my homework on this issue and, as a result, my own monkeys are thriving and are very healthy and happy.

                I am an occupational therapist at an acute care hospital where we have patients of all ages who are there primarily to be weaned off of life support or as we call them “ventilators”.  Some of my patients have been ill for so long that they have just given in to a life of sickness, lying in a bed, looking at four walls.  I can’t help but feel a deep compassion for them when they can’t even breath on their own and they can’t talk due to having a trach in their throat.  But they will mouth the words to me saying “how are the monkeys?”

                I often share pictures and funny stories about the monkeys.  A few times I have been in the local supermarket and one of my former patients or their family members will walk up to me and say “You’re the therapist with the monkeys!”

                Before working in the hospital I worked as a therapist in a nursing home for ten years.  The patients and residents would be very disappointed if I didn’t walk in the door in the morning with an animal carrier in my hand.  Now everything is about liability first instead of quality of life, and I can no longer bring my animals to work for the patients to enjoy.

                So I remedied the situation by bringing in little mechanical monkeys and animals that sing and dance.  I also push an exercise cart around the hallway with stuffed monkeys hanging on it.  The patients and their families love it.

                Anyway, more than once my patient will ask me “What got you into monkeys?”  My response is “Well, I’ve had everything else, so about seven or eight years ago I decided to try a monkey.”

                At first I had a bushbaby, then a lemur, and finally I got my first little, real monkey.  I had what I call critters in the past like coatis, kinkajous, skunks, etc.  But me and the monkeys were a perfect match.  I don’t call them primates – I call them my soul mates.

                My very first little monkey was a red handed tamarin.  She hated me.  Every time she looked at me, she would scream her head off.  That summer, work was slow so I had a lot of extra time to spend with her.  You have to allow a monkey to “warm up” to you at their own pace.  She got to where she would lay on my stomach while I watched TV or she would play “dentist” by looking in my mouth at my teeth.

                Then I purchased a marmoset and began learning about the proper diet and specific need of these beautiful, tiny primates.  I began to read about “wasting syndrome” and metabolic bone disease, cage paralysis and herpes virus that can afflict them.  I set out to prevent any of these maladies from ever affecting my own animals.

                The marmoset diet comes in a can and in a powder.  I find that mine like the powder best, which I mix with some water, cod liver oil, a little ultra fine D3 powder, yogurt or applesauce and some chopped fruit.  I also have twenty-four inch UVB fluorescent lights on top of each cage which also provides them with D3 like the sun does for us in order to allow the body to utilize their calcium to strengthen bones, etc.

                I keep marmosets inside because Florida is so hot and also at night I have heard of raccoons and the like pulling the tails and legs of monkeys through the cage and biting them off.

                Mealworms and crickets are also an essential part of the marmoset or tamarin diet as a source of fat and protein.

                If your marmoset is a little run down, you need to buy some “marmoset jelly” which I stir into the powdered marmoset food, but it can also be made into a thick pudding and given as a treat.  It provides a lot of extra vitamins and nutrients.  Also, keep Nutrical on hand at all times.

                Make sure your cages are the appropriate size as stated by the fish and game department in your state.

                I have seen the sad results of monkeys kept in too small a cage.  Their joints are bones are deformed and they can even develop contractures of their hips and knees.  They require a lot of space where they can jump and play or their muscles will atrophy due to a lack of activity.

                About four years ago I got my first capuchin at six weeks of age.  It was love at first sight.  Later, I bought a little female.  Their primary diet is monkey biscuits soaked in cranberry juice for extra vitamin C which we also need.  I also feed them fruits, veggies, nuts, mealworms, and, yes, cod liver oil.  That stuff is great!  They love macaroni and cheese and marshmallows for a treat.

                Monkeys need a lot of stimulation and environmental enrichment which I provide by swings and ropes, toys, barrels, blankets and old clothes in the cages.  My male capuchin loves putting things together and taking them apart and he likes putting on clothes.  The female loves the bright colored ads in the newspapers and magazines.

                But the most important thing that we provide for each other is lots of love and affection.  Primates need this just as much as humans do or they may develop depression or neurotic behaviors. 

                I do not recommend a monkey as a pet for a child.  It has been my experience that monkeys do not respect children and see them as a sibling or a rival and will not hesitate to pinch, bite, or pull their hair.  Monkeys are also very jealous and will snatch anything they see or want from a child’s hand.

                To protect your primate friend, you will probably have to keep him to yourself. Monkeys are a big liability.  Your neighbor could be your best friend until your monkey bites or scratches them or their child.  Don’t take the risk.

                Also make sure that you locate a veterinarian who will treat primates.  Most vets will not.

                Learn all you can from other primate owners and their mistakes.

                I hope this article will save primates and their owners a lot of unnecessary greif.

                By the way, I am looking to adopt a cotton top tamarin, if anyone out there needs a super home for one or two.  I just think they are so striking and unusual.

                My daughter had a new license plate made for the front of my car that has a picture on it of a monkey and read “I only kiss monkeys”.  What can I say? That describes me to a tee.

                As for monkeys carrying diseases – well, we carry a lot more germs and diseases that can make them sick, which is not what the general public is lead to believe but it is true.


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