It just looked like a regular house. Honestly, I almost missed it as I was driving down Cambridge Street in Boston. “Wait, is this it? Doesn’t look right.” Finally I parked, pulled up directions on my iPhone and realized, yes, I had arrived. I was at Monkey College.
It was oddly quiet. There were supposed to be 50 monkeys in there. But before I could question where I was, a Monkey College staffer met me at the door and we started winding through the maze of the downstairs. Monkey classrooms.
Okay, let me back up. Monkey College is, well, actually — it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a school for monkeys. But it’s not just any school. Here, monkeys are trained to be service animals for the severely disabled.
I hadn’t seen any monkeys yet, but signs plastered along the walls caught my eye. Especially this one:
Yikes! $40,000? Is that a deal or a way-too-expensive price tag for an animal who might elect to spend his day swinging from my ceiling fan?
I figured I’d just have to meet one. Out came Allyson and Winston.
(Please forgive the quality of the photo.. I think I was distracted by the monkey wearing a diaper, clucking along on a woman’s shoulder.)
Allyson, a trainer at Monkey College, introduced Winston, a 26-year-old Capuchin monkey who prefers hummus to peanut butter and lines to pick through walnuts in his spare time.
I think it’s safe to say none of us expected what happened next.
Winston started flipping on and off light switches, changing CDs, opening water bottles, adjusting Allyson’s hands and feet when she sat in a practice wheelchair. All the while, of course, hamming it up for the camera. Here is a look:
He just loved Allyson. And don’t worry — they don’t live in those diapers. He just had one on “in case” he got spooked by the new visitors.. and their giant flashing camera equipment.
Check out some short videos of him doing his thing:
Adjusting feet on a wheelchair (if someone who is paralyzed has a muscle spasm, they are unable to put their limbs back in place. Enter: Winny)
I was lucky enough to spend the whole day at Monkey College. Here is a peak at my day:
I’ll spare you the interviews, although they were AWESOME. You’ll have to read the story. (It’s one of my favorite things I have ever written, by the way.)
Highlight: Bath time.
By the way, we also have beautiful professional photos. But you’ll have to go to www.usaweekend.com to see those.
In the meantime, there are still pretty wild:
All clean, dry and fluffy!
It was as adorable and as ridiculous as it looks. These workers are incredible with their monkeys. And the monkeys.. well, they are definitely monkeys.
After a long day at Monkey College, asking everything you can imagine: “Do they do this? Does he like that? What if…” I was left with another pressing question. What is it like to be a monkey recipient. And then, Ned and Kasey came bursting into my life.
A short drive from monkey college and an enormous lunch later. I met Ned Sullivan and his helper monkey, Kasey. Here is the door to Ned’s bedroom.
Ned is now 30, but when he was 22 he was in a car accident that left him with a severe brain injury. I was fortunate enough to get a signed (by Ned, Ellen AND Kasey) copy of Kasey to the Rescue, a memoir by Ned’s mother Ellen, which detailed the unbelievably traumatic experience. What started off as a devastatingly slow and painful recovery was thrown for a loop when Kasey came swinging into their lives. I’ll give you some pictures.. But you’ll have to read my story for the details (and the professional photos). It’s the heart, and best part of my story, and Ned and Kasey’s story is best told there.
But here is a look:
And Kasey even liked me! She is really cuddly.
It was so hard to say goodbye to this incredible family and I feel honored to have the opportunity to tell their story. It’s a wild one. Make sure to check out the story.
Also, happy to answer any Monkey College questions! Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @ndiblasio — I just love talking about my incredible experience — if you can’t tell. :)