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Monkey Business: Is A Monkey The Right Pet For You?

Monkey Business…

As a young teenager living on the west coast of Florida, I was like a fish out of water. I moved there from New York with my parents. There were a lot of things that took some getting used to and I wasn’t a fan of the heat or the bugs. Whoever invented air conditioning has my eternal gratitude! Then there were things that helped me tolerate any negatives. The simple lifestyle and dress, beaches and fishing to name a few. One of the things I really liked about Florida was that it didn’t have many of the rules and restrictions that East Coasters were and still are cursed with today. Even in the early 1970s you couldn’t walk into a pet store in New York or Long Island and buy a monkey. However, you could do this in Florida.

Before the government decided it was going to make all the decisions for us, there was a time when you could decide a lot of things for yourself. This included the type of pet you might want to buy or adopt. Unfortunately, there were some who spoiled this for honest, sincere and thoughtful pet owners… People who left their dogs permanently tied to a tree, kept an alligator in the pool, had a tiger in their apartment, or used their house as animal rescue center that keeps hundreds of malnourished cats in a completely unacceptable environment… Now I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be laws against keeping certain types of wild or exotic animals as pets. What I want to point out is if the government bans people from owning animals because they are dangerous or in the opinion of some “expert” they may suffer psychological damage from living with humans… Then they are barking up the wrong tree.

As a fourteen-year-old boy, I walked into a pet store in Florida and saw a squirrel monkey languishing in a small cage. This was not a case of neglect or abuse. This sort of thing is often done by pet stores as a hook to get you to buy one of their more expensive or hard to sell options. That’s what my dad said and he was right. Another week passed and the monkey was still there when I returned. At $25 it wasn’t a fortune and that price meant the store wanted out. It was a time when few tourists were in town and that made it harder to sell. Most locals were older and didn’t want the hassle of keeping a Primate as a pet. Besides, the monkey was not good at self-promotion. It had just been weaned when someone took it from its mother, gave it a few shots and sold it to the pet store for resale. As a result, the animal was shy, slippery and scared.

I went to the local library and did some research on squirrel monkeys before finally buying him two weeks after my first visit to the pet shop. My parents were fine with my purchase because I’ve always been a responsible pet owner with a dog, birds and guinea pigs. The dog died before we moved. The other pets were adopted by neighbors who already knew and loved them because it was simply not possible to bring them with them. I named my monkey Sam and brought him home to a large cage that we kept in a room in Florida with gelatine windows on the side of our house. It faced an unused lot that was overgrown and resembled a jungle. This room could be cut off from the A/C if needed, but it was heated for the short time our area experienced any cold weather.

Squirrel Monkeys are easy to feed, not too expensive to keep and not difficult to train if you train them to do things they like to do. But they require a lot of companionship and mental stimulation. Luckily, Sam liked me. At first he tried to bite me so I stung him a few times until he learned not to be so aggressive. This was only possible because I made him so young. I also put him in his crate when he misbehaved. The idea was to use conditioning and repeated discipline as tools to get the animal to behave. I was the leader of this group of primates, not him. I was the provider of food, water and shelter. Once he understood all this he learned faster. At first I used a leash. After a few months it wasn’t necessary. He was allowed to roam free under our supervision and even played outside while we were barbecuing or going to our pool. He used the empty space of the shop next door as an exercise yard climbing trees and chasing birds and squirrels. He also used it as a potty so I guess you could say he was potty trained for the most part.

Dogs and monkeys are sworn enemies. You can’t really have both without stressing out one or both pets. Actually, monkeys are jealous. I strongly recommend that if you are considering getting a monkey of this type, avoid having other pets. Most monkeys that are not well trained or treated well will likely become mean or moody as they move into adulthood. Monkeys in cages will pee or throw feces at you. They may also attack you or destroy things they see as important to you if given the chance.

As a rule, monkeys are intelligent. They learn quickly and are great escape artists. That’s why training is important. I always left Sam’s crate door open once he was potty trained. I closed the doors to that room. He learned to close or open his cage door as he pleased. After a while he learned how to open and close all the doors leading to the backyard so he could go outside to play or do his chores. But he would never go unless one of us gave him our permission. The doors to his room were locked when we went out without him.

Owning a squirrel monkey is easy and hard… rewarding and frustrating… fun and annoying… but is it ethical? Is it harmful to the animal? You’ll have to decide for yourself, unless your city or state has already done this for you. The truth is, people will get monkeys regardless. It is illegal in China, but thousands of Chinese own “Pocket Monkees” which are usually bought as baby Pygmy Mamosets, Capuchins or Resus Monkeys. They are not treated well. They tie their hands so they will learn to practice walking on two and not all fours, which is painful and unnatural for them. They shave their fur and dress them in clothes. You get the picture. These animals are status symbols in China, where most authorities look the other way and ignore the rich and influential people who own them. However, if they or responsible pet owners did not purchase the monkeys, they would be sold to research labs and condemned to spend a lifetime undergoing physically or emotionally damaging experiments while living in a small cage with no love or companionship.

Every year tens of thousands of monkeys are sent to research facilities around the world, and many orders for more of these same torture centers go unfulfilled. Given this fact, it’s hard to worry about the ethics of having a monkey as a pet compared to the same animal ending up as a lab rat. Most people I know who have a monkey didn’t abuse it, shave it, hit it, or keep it in an inappropriate environment. Once again, if you have the legal right to own one, you have to decide if it’s something you should do or not. Before you do anything, do a lot of research and buy from a reputable breeder if you decide a monkey is the right pet for you. No more $25 prices. You will spend $3000-$6000 depending on the type of monkey you choose. Most people prefer Capuchins for their ability to learn tricks and behaviors. If tiny is your thing Pygmy Marmosets are the size of baby fingers and adult hands. Squirrel and Spider Monkeys require more time and effort than most people care to invest in a pet.

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