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Pet Monkey Reality Check


Can monkey care be a positive experience? Yes, but only if you are committed, well-prepared, and well-informed ahead of time. To what degree is this possible? What if monkey care is harder than you though it would be? Are you flexible in your expectations? Will you remain committed in the face of all difficulties? The "Caretaker Rating Chart", on the following page, should help you answer these questions.

Is it possible for monkeys to receive excellent quality care and enjoy a fulfilling lives as pets? Yes, but realize first that monkeys are complex social/emotional animals that can best be termed as "high-care/high-need", "difficult" pets. Difficulty levels vary between species and individuals, larger monkeys generally being more problematic in some respects and smaller ones in others. In reality, it is unlikely that most people will be the highly motivated, committed caretakers required to provide for a monkey's lifetime needs.

The Caretaker Rating Chart lists 50 questions for the would-be monkey owner. --Why all the questions? The job of caretaking a monkey should not be taken lightly. It is very traumatic for the highly intelligent and sensitive monkey to receive poor care or to be rejected, given up and bounced to new, unfamiliar homes.

The chart will help you become aware of your own possible shortcomings as a caretaker. For example, monkeys spend most of their life-span in their adult years, so if you don't like adult behavior (prefer infants) another type of animal would be better for you. A chart cannot be all inclusive. Use the Caretaker Rating Chart simply to help you determine your possible aptitude and ability to set up coping strategies for dealing with complex monkey care and behavior.

BUT FIRST--Here is a long, hard look at some of the concerns monkey owners find themselves face to face with. Take a close look. If you are serious about monkeys, you'll be glad you did!

Be Prepared!

First of all, find out whether monkeys are legal in your state, county, city or town. Monkey ownership may be regulated against on any level of government. Federal licensing does not obviate the need for state licensing. State licensing, where required, does not satisfy requirements for county, city or town permitting. The right to legally own monkeys may be outlawed at any time on any level without wide spread public notification. Illegal monkeys are denied vet care in some states. Some states have the right to confiscate and keep illegal animals, and fines and sentences can be levied. At one time, the state of California wanted the right to confiscated and euthanize illegal monkeys. The animal rights/animal welfare movement has been empowered by the public and continues to work against the legal right for private citizens to keep monkeys. Fear by the public of shared monkey/human diseases is also a motive for outlawing monkeys. Monkey ownership has increasingly been regulated against on all levels of government in most states.

Where permits are obtainable, yearly fees may be required. Paid inspections or unannounced government agency inspections may be part of a permit requirement. To determine the status of monkeys in your area, check with your state fish and wildlife department, with your county animal control or humane society, with your town or city planning commission or other local government agencies. The burden is upon you. State agencies are not held responsible for inaccurate information. If you are able to get a permit--take steps to ensure your monkey permit will be grandfathered in the event that the law changes. If buying one monkey now, ask if you can qualify for a "pair" permit, so that you can legally acquire a second monkey as a social companion later even if the law has changed.

The Quality, Committed Caretaker--Are You Suited For the Job?

Taking care of a monkey is not a simple task. Monkeys have complex social/emotional needs that change with their different life-stages. Monkeys do best with patient, well-educated, mature caretakers who have creative problem solving skills--ones who are committed for the long haul and want to give monkeys a permanent and satisfying home. Caretakers best suited for the job tend to be people who have had positive results (1) parenting children, or (2) working with other intelligent social creatures such as dogs or parrots, or other exotic animals. Monkeys do best with "foreground", not "background" attention to their needs. Still, in terms of potential difficulty, no other animal can equal a monkey. A monkey's greater intelligence brings with it a greater capacity for unexpected or difficult behavior and also a greater capacity to suffer when relegated to a poor or inappropriate life-style.

Monkeys As Part of the Family?

Monkeys complicate family life. Often dealing with a growing monkey has the same effect as dealing with a difficult child. This is especially true of capuchin sized monkeys and larger. Monkeys may divide up the family buy having different relationships with each member--liking one member above all others--usually the most dominant adult or by scapegoating or picking on the least favorite person--usually the weakest or youngest family member. Maturing monkeys may become aggressive more easily in the presence of two or more people and may have to be handled by allowing only one person in the room at a time.

Can You Meet A Monkeys Complex Social/Emotional Needs?

Monkeys thrive only when their social needs are met. Companionship may come in the form of another compatible social animal, a full social circle of people or another compatible monkey. Monkeys have the emotional needs for love and security, the need to be touched and to have body contact. A monkey's emotional needs are human-like, but monkeys will still exhibit their own species specific "wild animal" behaviors, especially as adults. Monkeys need to be recognized as the emotional creatures that they are. Learn to recognize your monkey's needs, wants and feelings. Monkeys may become emotionally disturbed or aggressive when treated like "objects", or when attempts are made to treat them strictly like human children or to over-handle or control them.

Can You Afford Proper Housing?

Proper housing allows for large motor exercise, running and leaping. Cages which simply put monkeys on display are not usually large enough. Kennel crates, cat cages, and bird cages are not recommended as even temporary housing, since temporary housing often becomes permanent.

Are You Ready to Deal With Temperament?

It is not reasonable to expect that you will never be bitten by any monkey. The relatively docile youngster eventually turns from play-aggression to the serious aggression of an adult. Proper management techniques go a long ways in coping. The larger the monkey, generally speaking, the bigger the problem. Yet it is hard to prepare someone for the onslaught of mature aggression in a monkey. Have you ever seen a rabid dog in the throes of an attack--the pursuit of an angry bull in a bull ring, the vicious ripping power of a lion's canine teeth? A mature monkey, even one who was hand-raised, can attack a friend or stranger with equal vengeance. An angry monkey has the cunning and dexterity to leap into the air and accurately take a swipe an the human eye, or to bite the human body in the most vulnerable places, the jugular vein, the veins of the wrists, the nerve-filled fingers of the hand. It almost takes the discipline of a professional trainer to deal with the personalities of some individual monkeys in a constructive way as they mature. It takes love, forgiveness and stick-to-it-iveness to remain a committed caretaker.

Loose In The House?

Greater intelligence in monkeys does not equal greater mindfulness. Most monkeys remain mischievous, and are not trainable as dogs, birds or other animals. At their worst, when capuchin sized or larger monkeys are loose in the house, they often seek out coveted personal items, i.e., the most meaningful objects to a monkey are often forbidden ones. At their worst, growing monkeys may pull down drapes, shred cloth, chew wood, spill drinks, steal food, take possession of articles and refuse to return them, damage house plants, torment other household pets, soil or stain furniture, tip chairs, break knickknacks, ink pens or dishes, tear books and papers, get into cleaning fluids or baking ingredients, open drawers, cabinets, unlock or open inside and outside house doors, open refrigerators and windows, remove window screens, open baby proof latches and lids, break glass, push large pieces of furniture over, urinate into television sets or other electronic equipment ect. Monkeys are escape artists and may unfasten their belts, their leashes, wiggle the bolts from their kennel carriers, find ways to escape cages or other housing. Such behaviors are not only damaging to your home and property but can be dangerous to the monkey as well.

Monkey Messes

Monkeys do not have an instinct for keeping their housing area clean. In nature, all excess food and waste fall downward away from the monkey. Monkeys in cages have a natural tendency to drop food. In the worst case, they may smear food, shred and remove diapers, shred cage papers, smear feces, splatter urine. Several species also have the innate behaviors of urine washing or urine scenting. Properly fed monkeys have a regular flow of urine and feces which need to be cleaned daily. Monkey feces have odor, especially when closed in indoor cages. Mature monkeys may become possessive of dirty cage items and resist cleanup. They may behave aggressively toward their cleanup crew, so a cage must be setup with easy, hands-off cleaning in mind. Monkey cleanup and sanitizing can be difficult and time-consuming. Shelves and toys may need to be soaked. Cage wire eventually becomes "grungy", requiring extra scrub-down.

Do You Have Time?

Monkey do not remain status quo. An interactive relationship with a monkey takes a continued daily investment of time. Time is needed for cleaning and food preparation. Sick monkeys may need constant care and attention.

Can You Do The Work?

Do you have the stamina for daily cleanup, care and food preparation? Monkeys require the purchase, washing and preparation of fresh produce, the ordering of fresh monkey chow, often need vitamins added to their food and need a source of vitamin D3.

Can You Afford The Cost of Ongoing Care for Monkeys?

Monkeys naturally waste food, can become picky in their appetite, refusing once staple or favorite foods. Spilled or dropped food will usually be wasted. The cost of vet care can be high. One emergency can incur a bill of several hundred dollars. Regular health checks are costly, anesthetic gas is expensive as is diagnostic blood work. The ongoing cost of housing includes heating, enrichment and repairs.

Are You Tolerant, Flexible, Prepared?

Can you tolerate monkey behaviors that are out of your control? Can you make plans around your monkey if you can't find a vacation sitter? Would you be willing to cut a vacation short if when you are gone, your monkey refuses to eat, or gets sick?--Monkeys have a life-span of 20-40 years. Are you prepared to make suitable provisions for you monkey(s), in case of your death?--Can you handle the premature death of a beloved monkey, especially more likely in the tiny monkeys such as marmosets? Other behaviors which can require tolerance include male and female masturbating, same sex mounting, scratching of genital areas, displaying erections or monkeys copulating in front of an audience.

The Politics Surrounding Monkeys

The effects of the animal rights movement on monkey keeping cannot be ignored. Animal rights and animal welfare agencies continue to pressure legislation toward outlawing monkey ownership. Monkey owners often unwittingly support humane or sanctuary organizations that use their money to work against monkey ownership. Where permits are required for monkeys, owners may be subject to strict standards and fees. As a pet monkey owner, you may be harassed by regulatory agencies or by animal rights activists. You may face lack of support or refusal to be granted a legal permit even when you provide excellent care. Where monkeys are illegal, good veterinary care may be difficult or impossible to find. In a crisis, you may be alone or faced with the proposition of trying to drive to another state. Also, in the last few years, public fear of shared monkey/human diseases has increased, and you may find that you and your monkey are shunned by the public. Veterinarians may also refuse your monkey care out of animal rights convictions........

Are you still with us???--Remember-going through this whole screening process is for your own good as well as the good of the monkey--Forewarned is forearmed!

How Do You Rate Yourself?

Complete the following 50 questions by writing down the number that best describes you on a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest) in each category. When finished, add up your total score to find out where you rank (Make sure to be honest with yourself, there is noone looking over your shoulder)

1) Love of animals

2) Love of monkeys

3) Patience to deal with personality traits

4) Patience to deal with refusal to eat or take medications

5) Patience to deal with monkey's natural tendency to "get into things"

6) You are sensitive

7) Empathetic

8) Generally tolerant

9) Consistent

10) Forgiving

11) Understanding

12) Calm and mature temperament

13) Stable life-style

14) Supportive family

15) Able to manage family care and needs around monkey care

16) Can cope if monkey doesn't like one or more family members

17) Aptitude for understanding behavior

18) Willing to learn humane animal training techniques

19) Flexible in expectations

--(My favorite age for an animal is--rate each below)--

20) Infant--cute, docile, round-eyed, dependent, obedient

21) Adolescent--boisterous, rebellious, into things, destructive

22) Adult--more set in ways, less playful, potential for serious aggression, facial features have lost that "baby" look

23) You are financially secure

24) Able to budget for extra monkey expenses

25) Able to work hard to get cleanups done

26) Tolerant of food waste

27) Tolerant of noncompliant behaviors

28) Tolerant of messiness, dirtiness, urine, feces

29) Tolerant of biting or other aggressive behaviors

30) Tolerant of a monkey's sexual behaviors

31) Tolerant of feces or urine odor

32) Have creative problem solving skills

33) Willingness to compromise to accommodate monkey behaviors and needs

34) Have keen observation skills

35) Able to stay interested, emotionally committed

36) Able to devote daily blocks of time to play and grooming

37) Consistent in feeding and cleanup

38) Good at carrying out repetitive daily care

39) Committed for the long haul, a monkey's 20-40 year life span

40) Time to shop for and prepare fresh produce

41) Good at meeting repetitive feeding requirements

42) Willing to monkey-proof house (put breakables away, ect.)

43) Willing to buy toys for enrichment

44) Willingness to provide a social companion

45) Willing to buy vitamins and special food needs

46) Have time and $ for well-checks and vet visits

47) Willing to provide house space for indoor monkey cage, toys

48) Willingness to spend extra $ on proper sized exercise cage

49) Willing to seek further education on monkey care/behavior

50) Willing to check on permit requirements, to comply to state/city regulations, to pay fees & have inspections if required

What is your Total Score? Use the Rating Chart below to assess your aptitude.........

50-199=low aptitude
200-350=medium aptitude
351-500=high aptitude

Put yourself in the monkey's place....

When you reflect on your caretaker rating, you will see that it takes more than love to carry out the task of proper monkey care. In short, monkeys require special understanding and sacrifice, are expensive to own and need a daily investment of time spent on feeding, cleaning, socializing and care.

Most people buy monkeys of 3-4 months old or younger. The appearance of an infant can be quite deceiving. Infant monkeys differ greatly in behavior and appearance from mature monkeys.

The Six Most Common Reasons People Buy Pet Monkeys:

"They're so cute!!" (I love the way they look!!)
"They're so cool!!" (Different), (Attention Getting)
"I wanted an unusual pet." (Wanted an unusual pet for the kids)
"They're so adorable dressed up like people!"
"I've always wanted a monkey!" (Wanted to know what it would be like)
"They have to be the most special pet you can get.

The 12 Most Common Reasons People Give Up Pet Monkey:

An incident involving one or more of the behaviors below:

A serious bite or other aggressive behavior -- usually toward a child or other family member, sometimes a friend or stranger.
Monkey is "disobedient", won't mind, gets into things or tears off diapers or clothes.
Monkey has gotten loose and caused household damage.
Interference with family unity -- monkey likes some family members and dislikes/attacks others.
Messiness-with food, droppings, cage mess or while loose in the house
Other "problem behavior." -- such as loud vocalizations, urine scenting, male erections, male or female masturbating.
A legal case involving a bite or scratch or disease

Other Common Reasons:

Not enough time to spend with monkey--to busy to take care of.
Not enough space to house monkey.
Monkey is illegal
One or more family members dislike the monkey
The family is moving

A Few Thoughts About Displaced Monkeys

Be clear about what a monkey is before you get one so that you will not be disappointed later. If you want a monkey as a novelty item, an attention gettter or a cross between a doll and a child, you may be very happy with an infant--but not with a growing or full-grown, monkey.

Remember, monkeys are different than dogs and cats in that they do not retain "tameness" or "docility", without a continued significant investment of time. Even with an investment of time, monkeys naturally progress to behaviors of adolescence and maturity that make them less compatible with most humans and their human households.

The caretaker skills required for successfully working with the behavior of a growing monkey are close to the skills of a professional animal trainer or animal behaviorist. In short, offering a fair, fulfilling life to a monkey is much more difficult, truly, than anyone can first imagine.

As they grow into adolescents, all monkeys are less manageable in terms of human expectations, harder to control as "pets". At this time, if the owner cannot begin to make appropriate compromises, monkeys are then sold to new owners.

Studies show that children who are passed from unfamiliar home to home suffer psychological trauma which is permanently damaging. Also, moving is a major stressor for people and animals alike.

Monkeys who become "second hand monkeys" suffer greatly when they are sold and resold: Extreme psychological distress, often internalized--plus despondency, detachment, severe depression, aggressive behaviors, self aberrant or mutilating behaviors can be the long or short term emotional result for monkeys who are bounced from home to home.

A Call For Higher Standards

Honesty from Breeders, Dealers, and Brokers: Let the new monkey owner know what they are getting into, the complex caretaking skills required, the cost of proper cage setups, diet and vet care, zoonotic disease, licensing information and public health concerns. Ask to see a photograph of proper sized housing in which the monkey you are selling will live.

Accountability In New Monkey Owners: Make an educated choice. Learn as much as you can about the care of monkeys before you buy. Have the proper sized housing setups from day one, that is, build the proper cage before you buy the monkey. Also have veterinary care lined up, provisions for social companionship, knowledge of health and diet, toys and other enrichment and a fund budgeted aside for possible extra monkey costs. Make sure you understand permit requirements and public health concerns.

Commitment In New and Old Monkey Caretakers: Stay committed to ongoing, supportive education, to upgrade housing, vet care, enrichment, social or other conditions when necessary. Stay up-to-date on legislation and public health concerns.

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