Bill Would Allow Kentuckians to Have Service Monkeys, Draws Criticism

Jan 17, 2014

Credit Wikimedia Commons

A bill that would permit monkeys to be used as service companions for paralyzed Kentuckians has been filed in the state Senate, and is drawing criticism from animal rights groups. 

At first blush, state Senator John Schikel’s (R-11) bill sounds like fodder for "The Daily Show." It allows primates to be service companions in private residences.

But when asked about it, Shickel, a former police officer and a Union Republican, breaks down in tears. He tells a story about a family friend who was rendered paraplegic in a car accident.

“She had just graduated from high school, was getting ready to go to college, a bunch of kids were in the back of a pickup truck, in a rural area down around Big Boone State Park, the uh… the uh… [starts crying] truck went off the road, she flew out."

Schikel tells of how a Boston-based nonprofit called Helping Hands—which trains capuchin monkeys to offer companionship and help for paralyzed individuals—could offer a solution if Kentucky law were changed.

“I realize that this is beginning the discussion and there’s problems that will have, and possibly this isn’t even a viable solution, but I want to explore it on behalf of this family, and similar families, that have these kind of challenges," he said. "I have personally met with this girl and her parents, and I’ve seen the kind of suffering that goes on."

Shickel says he’s modeled his bill after laws in Ohio and Georgia.

But Nicholasville-based Primate Rescue Center is critical of the efforts.  Executive Director April Truitt said keeping a wild animal in a domestic setting is unacceptable.

"They're wild animals and the notion of keeping them as servants for humans couldn't be further from their natural inclination or their nature," said Truitt. 

Truitt said there are a host of reasons why using service monkeys are cruel, including the routine practice of full dental extraction employed to prevent the spread of zoonotic disease and injury to handlers. 

"Even without their teeth, they’re capable of doing damage to humans. We feel [using service monkeys] is a cruel and barbaric practice and we see no reason for Kentucky to be considering this sort of change to our regulations.”

"In addition, in 2010, the Federal government narrowed the definition of 'service animals' to dogs and horses only, meaning non-human primates cannot be recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act," said Truitt. 

Truitt said Schikel’s heart may be in the right place, but monkeys are not the answer.