As a young teen living on the West Coast of Florida I was like a fish out of water. I moved there from New York with my parents. There were many things that took some getting used to and I was not a fan of the heat or bugs. Whoever invented air conditioning has my eternal gratitude! Then there were things that helped me tolerate any negatives. The casual lifestyle and dress, the beaches and the fishing to name a few. One the things I really loved about Florida was that it lacked many of the rules and restrictions that East Coasters were and still are cursed with today. Even in the early 1970s you could not walk into a NYC or Long Island pet shop and purchase a monkey. However, you could do that in Florida.
Before the government decided that they would make all the decisions for us, there was a time you could decide many things for yourself. That included what type of pet you might want to purchase or adopt. Sadly, there were some people who spoiled that for honest, sincere and thoughtful pet owners… People who left their dogs perpetually tied to a tree, kept an alligator in the pool, had a tiger in their apartment or used their home as an animal rescue center keeping hundreds of poorly fed cats in a totally unacceptable environment… Now I am not saying that there should not be laws against keeping certain types of wild or exotic animals as pets. What I want to point out is if the government is forbidding people from owning animals because they are endangered or in the opinion of some “expert” might 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 Florida pet shop 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 pricey or hard to sell selections. So said my dad and he was correct. Another week went by and the monkey was still there when I returned. At $25 it did not 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 harder to sell. Most locals were older and did not want the hassle of keeping a Primate as a pet. Besides, the monkey was not good at self promotion. It had barely been weaned when someone took it from its mother, gave it some shots and sold it to the pet store for resale. As a result the animal was shy, skiddish and frightened.
I went to the local library and did some research on squirrel monkeys before I finally purchased him two weeks after my first visit to the pet shop. My parents were good with my purchase because I had always been a responsible pet owner having had a dog, birds and guinea pigs. The dog died before we moved. The other pets were adopted to neighbors who already knew and liked them because it was just not possible to bring them along. I named my monkey Sam and brought him home to a large cage that we kept in a Florida Room with jalousied windows on the side of our house. It faced an unused lot that was overgrown and looked like a jungle. That room could be cut off from A/C if necessary, but was heated for the short period of time that our area experienced any chilly weather.
Squirrel Monkeys are easy to feed, not very expensive to keep and not hard to train if you train them to do things they enjoy doing. However, they require a lot of companionship and mental stimulation. Fortunately, Sam liked me. He tried to bite me at first 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 put him in his cage when he misbehaved. The idea was to use conditioning and repetitive discipline as tools to have the animal behave. I was the head of this primate group, not him. I was the provider of food, water and shelter. Once he figured all this out he learned faster. In the beginning I used a leash. After a few months it wasn’t necessary. He was allowed to roam freely under our supervision and even played outside while we had barbeques or went in our pool. He used the empty lot next store as an exercise yard climbing the trees and chasing birds and squirrels. He also used it as a potty so I guess you could say he was potty trained for the most part.
Dogs and monkeys are sworn enemies. You can’t really have both without stressing out one or both pets. In reality Monkeys are jealous. I strongly suggest that if you plan on owning a monkey of this type you avoid having other pets. Most Monkeys that are not well trained or kindly treated will likely get mean or moody as they transition to adulthood. Constantly caged monkeys will pee on you or throw feces at you. They may also attack you or destroy things they see are important to you if given the opportunity.
As a rule Monkeys are smart. They learn fast and are great escape artists. That is why training is important. I always left Sam’s cage door open once he was trained. I did close the doors to that room. He learned to close or open his cage door as it suited him. After a while he learned how to open and close all the doors that lead to the back yard so he could go outside to play or do his business. But he would never go unless one of us gave him our permission. Doors to his room were padlocked when we went out without him.
Owning a squirrel monkey is easy and hard… satisfying and frustrating… fun and annoying… but it is ethical? Is it detrimental to the animal? You will have to decide for yourself unless your city or state has already done that for you. The truth is that people are going to own monkeys regardless. In China it’s illegal, but thousands of Chinese own “Pocket Monkees” which are usually purchased as baby Pygmy Mamosets, Capuchins or Resus Monkeys. They do not treat them well. They tie their arms so they will learn to practice walking on twos instead of all fours which is painful and unnatural for them. They shave off their fur and dress them in clothes. 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 buy the monkeys they would be sold to research labs and condemned to a life spent being subjected to physically or emotionally damaging experiments while living in a tiny cage devoid of love or companionship.
Each year tens of thousands of monkeys are shipped to research facilities worldwide and many orders for more from these same torture centers remain unfilled. Given that fact it is hard to be concerned about the morality of owning a monkey as a pet compared to the same animal ending up as a lab rat. Most people I know who have owned a monkey did not mistreat it, or shave it, or beat or keep it in an improper environment. Once again, if you have the legal right to own one, you have to decide if it is something you should do or not. Before you do anything, do lots of 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 the Capuchins for their ability to learn tricks and behaviors. If tiny is your plan Pygmy Marmosets are finger sized as babies and hand sized as adults. Squirrel and Spider Monkeys require more time and effort than most people care to invest in a pet.
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