Innovative Solutions for People        Living With Physical Disabilities

Innovative Solutions for People
       Living With Physical Disabilities

Melanie's Story, September 2023

Can Melanie count on you?

Melanie and Friend

Turning 40 years old in December, Melanie is enjoying her golden years at the Monkey Living Center.

Chapter 1. Meet Melanie! For more than 40 years, Helping Hands Monkey Helpers, now known as Envisioning Access, placed, at no cost, highly trained capuchin monkeys with people living with mobility impairments looking for more independence and companionship. These incredible service monkeys fetched dropped objects, repositioned limbs, pushed power buttons, and were constant companions to their human partners. Now, as these beloved monkeys, like Melanie, return home to Boston from their service, it is our duty to care for them as they have cared for so many. And they need you.

Melanie is an extremely smart, serious, and sweet service monkey who has spent her life helping others. She was a helper and companion to Jen, living with Muscular Dystrophy, Karole, living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and Eddie and Scott, who each had spinal cord injuries.

Now, one of the oldest monkeys at the Monkey Living Center, Melanie is living out her golden years surrounded by love and getting the best care we can provide—thanks to generous people like you. We hope you enjoy getting to know her over the next month.

Chapter 2. Melanie is Matched with Eddie.

Melanie had already spent several years with other recipients – she was a partner and companion first to Jen, who had Muscular Dystrophy, and then to Karole, who had Spinal Muscular Atrophy. In both cases, they had changes in their lives that necessitated Melanie returning to the Monkey College (now the Monkey Living Center). But it wasn’t long before her skills were needed once more.

In May of 2008, 24 year-old Eddie was working the night shift for a construction company in California when he was struck by a drunk driver who crossed over the median. He suffered severe trauma to his legs, right arm, spinal cord, and nervous system.

As he healed, his sister told him about the existence of service monkeys, and he was intrigued. He watched every video and applied for the program. In November of 2009, Eddie and Melanie became an inseparable pair!

“The day Melanie arrived is a day forever etched in my memory. When Melanie came out of her carrier and walked around her new surroundings for the first time it was amazing and surreal. After some time together, I realized that one of the biggest things she did for me was repositioning my arm after it slipped off the armrest of the wheelchair. She can not only open the refrigerator but also retrieve items I cannot. Melanie not only gave me the extra help I needed—she’s my best friend.”

Melanie returned to Boston after a few years as Eddie’s health needs changed, but she made a huge impact in his life and was there when Eddie needed her most.

Chapter 3. Scott and Melanie’s Story.

Scott was leading the life he had always imagined. He accomplished a number of personal goals like skydiving, bull riding, and visiting the Great Wall of China. His career path led him to a role as Vice President of Sales & Marketing for a Berkshire Hathaway company. In July 2009, a diving accident left him with a C3 level spinal cord injury — completely paralyzed from the neck down with no movement or sensation.

Knowing that Scott needed an extremely smart and highly trained monkey, Melanie was placed with him in 2012. We talked to Scott in 2013 about his journey with Melanie.

“I immediately recognized the benefit that a monkey like Melanie could provide someone in my situation and she’s now an integral part of my life. She is able to assist with tasks I am no longer able to complete — scratching an itch on my face, repositioning my sip and puff wheelchair controller or positioning my water bottle straw in front of my mouth. Simple tasks that most people take for granted have become so important to my daily routine. Have you ever tried to sit still and ignore an itch? It’s not easy, and now I no longer have to wait for someone to scratch it for me. I have Melanie!

Perhaps most important, though, is the companionship and emotional lift she provides me. She does not see the wheelchair, she does not see someone who can’t help himself, she sees a companion that she feels the need to keep clean through grooming and sit with for company. Whether watching TV together or sitting outside enjoying the sun, she is never more than a few feet away, always full of energy, ready to assist with what tasks I might need. She has further ignited the fire in me to regain the use of my arms and hands so that I can one day assist her with her grooming!”

In 2022, Scott made the difficult decision to send Melanie back to the Monkey Living Center after 10 years together as his needs were changing. 

Chapter 4. Melanie and the Monkey Living Center

Because of you, Melanie and all our post-service monkeys spend their days well cared for, well fed, and well loved. We couldn’t provide them their well-earned retirement at the Monkey Living Center without your help. When Melanie returned to Boston in 2022, she was paired with Kim, one of our Monkey Care Team members. Here is what she had to say about Melanie:

“Melanie is a strong, healthy old lady. She will turn 40 this December and is actually older than I am! She’s a little like Sophia of the Golden Girls – a “tough old broad” who sometimes yells at other monkeys to let them know that she is the boss. She’s super smart and learns things very quickly, which is one of the reasons she was placed with some high-level injury recipients. She’s also quite serious (for a monkey) and doesn’t like to play with toys or me. Melanie likes her alone time but does have a couple of friends that she enjoys spending time with (Heidi and Mandy). Her favorite treats are oatmeal, peanut butter, walnuts, and whatever I happen to be eating for lunch!

Melanie likes to cuddle, but only if we are alone – if there is someone nearby, she NEEDS to know what they are doing. She very much wants to be in everyone else’s business. She LOVES the play enclosures – hunting for treats hidden in various nooks and crannies, climbing, swinging, and exploring. She’s a very active monkey, not known for sitting still. She has a small growth near her eye that is not dangerous and does not affect her health but is very distinctive in photos. (I love her, but she is not as photogenic as some of her monkey friends.) She loves to soak in a hot bath with lots of bubbles and goes to bed with a small stuffed animal every night – the only toy she is interested in. She’s done so much for so many people, and I am honored to be her main person now and give her all the love and care she deserves.”

Our service monkeys helped so many people regain their independence. It is now our job to make sure they are loved and cared for in their golden years. We need YOU to help make that happen. Will you help today by making a gift?

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