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Monkey Business: Is A Monkey The Right Pet For You?
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. It was a lot to get used to and I wasn’t a fan of the heat or the bugs. Whoever invented air conditioning, my eternal gratitude! Then there were things that helped me tolerate all the negativity. Casual lifestyle and dressing, beaches and fishing to name a few. One thing I really loved about Florida was that it lacked many of the rules and restrictions that cursed East Coasters and still exist 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 can do it in Florida.
Before the government decided to make all the decisions for us, there was a time when you could decide many things for yourself. This includes what type of pet you might buy or adopt. Unfortunately, there were people who spoiled it for honest, sincere and considerate pet owners… People who left their dogs tied to a tree forever, kept an alligator in the pool, had a tiger in their apartment, or used their home as a house. an 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 state forbids people from owning animals because they are endangered or in the opinion of some “expert” they can be psychologically damaged by living with people… 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 type of thing is often done by pet stores as a hook to get you to buy one of their more expensive or harder-to-sell choices. 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 didn’t cost a fortune and that price meant the store wanted it gone. It was a time when few tourists were in town and that made it difficult to sell. Most of the 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. He was barely weaned when someone took him from his mother, gave him a few injections and sold him to a 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 one two weeks after my first visit to the pet store. My parents were fine with my purchase as I have always been a responsible pet owner having a dog, birds and guinea pigs. The dog died before we moved. Other pets were adopted by neighbors who already knew and loved them because it was simply not possible to take them. I named my monkey Sam and brought him home to a large cage we kept in a room in Florida with louvered windows on the side of our house. She was looking at an unused lot that was overgrown and looked like a jungle. That room could have been disconnected from the AC if needed, but it was heated for a short period of time while our area was chilly.
Squirrel monkeys are easy to feed, inexpensive to keep, and not difficult to train if you train them to do things they enjoy. However, they require a lot of companionship and mental stimulation. Fortunately, Sam liked me. First he tried to bite me so I pinched him a few times until he learned not to be so aggressive. This was only possible because I got him so young. I also caged him when he misbehaved. The idea was to use conditioning and repetitive discipline as tools to make the animal behave. I was the boss of this group of primates, not him. I provided food, water and shelter. Once he understood all this, he learned faster. At first I used string. After a few months it was not necessary. He was allowed to roam free under our supervision and even played outside while we had a BBQ or went to our pool. He used the vacant lot next door as an exercise yard, climbing trees and chasing birds and squirrels. He also used it as a potty, so it could be said that he was mostly potty trained.
Dogs and monkeys are sworn enemies. You can’t have both without stressing one or both pets. In reality, monkeys are jealous. I recommend that if you plan to own a monkey of this species, you avoid other pets. Most monkeys who are not well trained or treated with kindness are likely to become mean or moody as they move into adulthood. Monkeys that are constantly in a cage will pee on you or throw their 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 smart. They learn quickly and are excellent escape artists. That’s why training is important. I always left Sam’s cage door open after he was dressed. I closed the door to that room. He learned to close or open the cage door as he saw fit. After a while he learned how to open and close all the doors leading to the back yard so he could go outside to play or do his work. But he would never leave unless one of us gave him our permission. The door to his room was locked when we left without him.
Owning squirrel monkeys is easy and hard… satisfying and frustrating… fun and boring… 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 so for you. The truth is that people will own monkeys regardless. It is illegal in China, but thousands of Chinese own “pocket monkeys” which are usually bought as tiny baby mammoths, capuchins or rhesus monkeys. They don’t treat them well. They tie their hands to learn to practice walking on two instead of all fours which is painful and unnatural for them. They shave their fur and dress them. You get the picture. These animals are status symbols in China where most authorities look the other way and ignore the rich and important people who own them. However, if they or responsible pet owners did not purchase the monkeys, they would be sold to research laboratories and sentenced to a life of being subjected to physically or emotionally harmful experiments while living in a small cage devoid of love or companionship.
Every year, tens of thousands of monkeys are shipped to research facilities around the world, and many orders for more from these same torture centers go unfulfilled. Given that fact, it’s hard to be concerned about the morality of having a monkey as a pet compared to the same animal ending up as a lab rat. Most of the people I know who have owned a monkey have not mistreated, shaved, beaten or kept it in an inappropriate environment. Once again, if you have the legal right to own it, you have to decide if it’s something you should do or not. Before you commit, do your 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 because of their ability to learn tricks and behaviors. If your plan is small, small marmosets are about the size of a baby’s finger and the size of an adult’s hand. Squirrel and spider monkeys require more time and effort than most people care to invest in a pet.
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