Innovative Solutions for People        Living With Physical Disabilities

Innovative Solutions for People
       Living With Physical Disabilities

Monkey Helpers - Angie and J-Lee


Monkey Helpers - Angie & JLee - photo of Angie and JLee next to Christmas tree

A new beginning, a better way to live with her new limitations – that is what Angie was looking for when she applied for a monkey helper in 2005. Paralyzed by spinal tumors, Angie, a veteran, was looking for ways to become more independent when she discovered Helping Hands. She was matched with her monkey helper, J-Lee, in 2006 and the pair quickly became constant companions. Her service monkey was there to help with the small, day-to-day challenges, and to be a loving friend during times of greater challenge, especially when Angie lost both her legs due to medical complications.

We interviewed Angie in 2011 about her journey with J-Lee when they celebrated their five-year anniversary.  “I am a disabled veteran and I am very proud that I was the first Helping Hands Recipient in Tennessee!” Angie told us. “I live with my sister, best friend, and caregiver Aunda, her dog, Kinsey, and of course J-Lee. I like to make jewelry, oil paint, and use the computer to broaden my mind. When I was confined to bed, I did not know much about paralysis. I knew about service dogs, but that was about it. I started researching on the computer and came across Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers somewhere in 2002 or 2003.”

Angie said that J-Lee is like a five-year-old Olympic gymnast. “She is very smart and curious and active. She loves to help me – anything I drop she immediately goes and fetches it for me without command and she helps take her blankets out of her cage in the morning. She is very interested in everything around her – we installed two windows just for her so that she could watch the birds in the bird feeder outside. She loves to cuddle and give me kisses. People wonder about the relationship between a dog and a monkey, but J-Lee and Kinsey get along great – when I am making a turkey sandwich, J-Lee will bark at Kinsey to let him know that there soon will be turkey for them. I definitely notice changes as the years go by – she has gotten more affectionate each year. I recently lost my legs, so I no longer have much of a lap for her, but she finds a way to cuddle up. She is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

People always say that they would like to have a monkey, but I tell them that they do not make good pets,” Angie continued. “It is like having a child – they take lots of time and attention and the bonding process takes time and a lot of work. The reason that J-Lee and I have such a good relationship is that we worked at it, with the help of the staff at Helping Hands. You teach the monkeys and then you teach us and you have such a wonderful support system. I know that 24 hours a day, someone is just a phone call away should I need help with J-Lee.”

J-Lee’s favorite food? “Chickie – our word for chicken. She loves her chicken. She makes little happy noises when she eats it. Her favorite toy is a compact. She just loves to look at that monkey in the mirror – she lip smacks at it, reaches over her head with her back leg and pulls at her opposite ear to play with her own reflection. Pulls her hair and fluffs it up. It is precious. She also loves cards – playing cards and credit cards. She also likes to use the computer with me. I have a tablet with a touch screen so we will watch videos and she loves to tap the screen and make things happen.”

Angie’s favorite thing about J-Lee is “the way that she looks up at me with such sweetness in her little eyes. She gives me strength. She gives me a reason to get out of the hospital quicker – to be alive. She is like a child to me, deep in that place in my heart. J-Lee depends on ME for everything and I depend on her for the love, companionship…her simple physical contact. She gives me a reason to come home – she is a part of me.”

In 2013, Angie got very sick.

“My sister was not doing well,” said Aunda. “She was battling an infection and losing, the hospital told us she probably had only four days to live. Angie asked to go home to be with J-Lee and our family, so we took her home. She then surprised everyone and spent thirty-one days with us! Believe me when I say those were the sweetest days we had. She was like her old self – we played and laughed just like old times. But most of all, Angie wanted to be with J-Lee. She loved that monkey so much – J-Lee gave her purpose and a reason to wake up in the morning. And that little monkey loved her right back – always grooming her and cuddling with her. Even when Angie slipped into a coma, J-Lee stayed with her, curling up on her chest and sharing her love. Right up until the end of Angie’s life, J-Lee was there, doing her best to comfort and care for her.”

After Angie’s passing, J-Lee returned to Boston. She turned 32 in July of 2021, and spends her post-service days cuddling and playing with her friends, monkey and human alike, at the Monkey Living Center.

If you would like to support the continuing care for post-service monkeys, please consider making a donation today. You can read more recipient stories here.