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Monkey Business…

As a young teenager living on the West Coast of Florida I was like a fish out of water. I moved from New York with my parents. There were many things that took some getting used to and that I was not a fan of the warmth or bugs. Whoever invented air conditioning has my eternal gratitude! Then there were things that helped me endure any downsides. The casual lifestyle and apparel, the beaches and the fishing to name a few. One the things I really loved about Florida was that it lacked several of the rules and limitations that East Coasters were and still are cursed with now. In the early 1970s you couldn’t walk into a NYC or Long Island pet shop and purchase a monkey. But you can do this in Florida.

Before the government decided they would make all the decisions for us, there was a time you could decide many things on your own. That included what sort of pet you might want to purchase or adopt. Sadly, there were some men and women who spoiled that for honest, sincere and thoughtful pet owners… People who left their dogs tied to a tree, kept an alligator in the pool, had a tiger in their apartment or used their home as an animal rescue center keeping hundreds of poorly fed cats in a totally unacceptable environment… Now I’m not saying that there should not be laws against maintaining certain types of wild or exotic animals as pets. What I want to point out is if the government is prohibiting people from owning animals because they are compromised or in the opinion of some”expert” might be emotionally damaged by living with people… Then they are barking up the wrong tree.

As a fourteen year old boy I walked right into a Florida pet shop and saw a squirrel monkey languishing in a little cage. This was not a case of negligence or abuse. This sort of thing can be done by pet stores as a hook to get you to buy one of their more pricey or hard to sell choices. So said my father and he was correct. At $25 it did not cost a fortune and that cost meant the store wanted it gone. It was a time when few tourists were in town which made it harder to sell. Most locals were older and didn’t need the trouble of maintaining a Primate as a pet. Besides, the monkey wasn’t very good at self promotion. It had hardly been weaned when someone took it out of its mother, gave it some shots and sold it to the pet store for resale. As a result the creature was bashful, skiddish and fearful.

I went to the Wildlife Control New York NY and did some research on squirrel monkeys before I finally purchased him two weeks after my initial trip to the pet store. The dog died before we proceeded. The other pets were adopted to neighbors that knew and liked them since it was just not possible to bring them along. I named my monkey Sam and brought him home to a large cage which we kept in a Florida Room with jalousied windows on the side of the property. It faced an unused lot that was overgrown and looked like a jungle. That area could be cut off from A/C if needed, but was heated for the short time period that our area experienced any chilly weather.

Squirrel Monkeys are easy to feed, not very expensive to maintain and not hard to train if you train them to do things they like doing. However, they require a lot of companionship and mental stimulation. Luckily, Sam liked me. He tried to bite me first so I pinched him a few times until he learned to not be so aggressive. I also put him in his cage when he misbehaved. The idea was to use repetitive and conditioning discipline as tools to get the animal behave. I had been the head of this primate group, not him. I was the provider of food, shelter and water. After he figured out this he learned faster. In the beginning I used a leash. After a couple of months it wasn’t necessary. He was permitted to roam freely under our oversight and even played outside while we had barbeques or went in our pool. He used the vacant lot next shop as an exercise yard climbing the trees and chasing squirrels and birds.

Dogs and monkeys are sworn enemies. You can’t really have either without stressing out one or both pets. In reality Monkeys are jealous. I strongly suggest that if you plan on owning a monkey of the type you prevent having other pets. Most Monkeys that aren’t well trained or kindly treated will likely get mean or moody as they transition into adulthood. Constantly caged monkeys will pee on you or throw feces at you. They may also attack you or destroy things they see are important to you if given the chance.

As a rule Monkeys are smart. They learn quickly and are great escape artists. That is why training is important. I always left Sam’s cage door open once he was trained. I did close the doors to that room. He learned to shut or open his cage door as it suited him. After some time he learned how to open and shut all the doors that lead to the backyard so he could go outside to play or do his business. But he’d never go unless one of us gave him our permission. Doors to his room were padlocked when we moved out without him.

Owning a squirrel monkey is easy and challenging… satisfying and frustrating… annoying and fun… but it’s ethical? Is it detrimental to the animal? You will need to decide for yourself unless your city or state has already done that for you. The truth is that people are going to own monkeys regardless. In China it is illegal, but tens of thousands of Chinese own”Pocket Monkees” that are usually purchased as baby Pygmy Mamosets, Capuchins or Resus Monkeys. They don’t treat them well. They tie their arms so they will learn to practice walking on twos rather than fours that’s painful and unnatural for them. They shave their fur off and dress them in clothes. You get the picture. These animals are status symbols in China where many governments look the other way and ignore the rich and important people who own them. However, if they or responsible pet owners didn’t purchase the monkeys they would be sold to research labs and condemned to a life spent being exposed to physically or emotionally harmful experiments while living in a very small cage devoid of love or companionship.

Each year tens of thousands of monkeys are sent to research facilities worldwide and several orders for more from the same torture facilities remain unfilled. Given that fact it’s hard to be worried about the morality of having a monkey for a pet in contrast to the identical animal ending up as a laboratory rat. Most people I know who have owned a monkey did not mistreat it, or shave it, or beat or keep it in an improper environment. Once again, if you have the lawful right to own one, you need to decide if it’s something you should do or not. Before you do anything, do a great deal of research and purchase from a respectable breeder should you decide a monkey is the right pet for you. No additional $25 prices. You will spend $3000-$6000 depending on the kind of monkey you choose. Most people prefer the Capuchins for their ability to learn tricks and behaviors. If tiny is your strategy Pygmy Marmosets are finger sized as infants and hand sized as adults. Squirrel and Spider Monkeys need more time and effort than most folks care to invest in a pet.