Helping Hands is a non-profit organisation in the United States where capuchin monkeys are reared and trained to help humans. The monkeys become the helping hands of those in need, many of whom have spinal cord injuries.
The capuchin monkeys learn to live with humans by being reared in host families. Volunteers offering a monkey a home commit to providing the animal with plenty of play, good care and a structured life. When the monkeys are old enough, they attend Monkey College to learn a basic set of skills for use later in their lives. With their small hands and fine fingers, monkeys can take over tasks for people who can no longer perform them, like picking things up from the floor (telephone, remote control), turning lights on and off, putting a straw in a drinking bottle and placing the bottle in a holder, and turning the pages of a book. The training is accomplished with positive reinforcement (petting or a treat); the animals are not punished when they fail to perform correctly. Most monkeys learn a basic skill set in 18 to 24 months. The Helping Hands organisation keeps track of the animals and continues to offer veterinary support throughout a monkey’s lifespan, including finding the animal a retirement home. For all of this, Helping Hands operates on contributions and donations alone.
On the Helping Hands website, a number of videos show the capuchin monkeys and the tasks they fulfil for the people with whom they live. One lovely aspect to see is how monkeys eventually groom ‘their’ humans, and how much the animals enjoy being touched and petted.