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Monkeying Around


Perhaps the parents of veterinary school students?had a secret communication method (this was long before email), or maybe it was because my parents had heard enough of my stories about the snake, tarantula and other unique pets at school. But it turns out I wasn’t to be left out of the odd pets contingent. It was Christmas vacation of my second year of vet school and I made the two hour drive from Davis to my folks’ home in Santa Cruz. It was a warm December day, so I made the trip with the top down on my 1958 VW bug. I made the trip in record time, pulling up in front of the house well before my promised noon arrival. I was greeted by a note taped to the front door ordering me to wait outside until my mother returned from visiting friends. I had a key and I was anxious to get in and use the bathroom, but I found the note peculiar enough to obey.


Fortunately, Mom wasn’t long?and pulled in the driveway within ten minutes. She was very relieved to see that I was waiting outside. After a quick hug and a little catching up on the front porch, I pleaded with her to go inside so I could use the facilities. She explained that my Christmas present was not wrapped and required a bit of explanation. After I made my required stop, she led me to the back of the house. Somewhat bewildered, I followed her into the master bathroom. There, in a small cage, was a very young Capuchin monkey! She was dark brown with light brown arms and shoulders and a flesh-colored mask with dark brown around his eyes, nose and mouth. Mom said that she and Dad thought he was the perfect Christmas present for me. They were probably right. I was shocked, thrilled, taken aback, amazed, dazed, confused and tickled pink – all at once. If that sounds like a weird case of emotional overload, it was!


Mom said they had purchased the monkey, whom I named Kippy, two days earlier from a specialty pet store thirty miles away in San Jose. We had always had at least one dog as I was growing up so my folks had plenty of experience with pets, but a monkey was definitely something new for them. Mom was a clean freak – her house was always spotless – so I think her love of our pets was always tempered by the mess they created, although it probably wasn’t all that much added on top of what four kids and a husband generated. When I considered all this and that she let a monkey live in her bathroom for two days, I was amazed and deeply touched. When I learned the rest of the story, I was even more shocked. I was actually surprised that my gift survived until I got there.


As I just mentioned, a monkey is not an ordinary pet, and Mom and Dad got a lesson on that point the first evening with Kippy. Dad opened the cage to put fresh water in her bowl and got schooled on how quick and slippery monkeys are as she slipped past his arm, out the cage door and loose into the house. At this point, the cage was not in the bathroom, but on the kitchen table, with the intention of letting my kid brother and sister enjoy her until Christmas. It would also keep Kippy from feeling isolated and help socialize her.


Once loose, Kippy immediately got in the Christmas spirit as she dashed across the kitchen counters instinctively seeking refuge in the nearest tree, which just happened to be the fully decorated Christmas tree. As Dad chased after her, Kippy took a flying leap up onto the tree. It wasn’t rooted to the ground like the trees her ancestors had swung in, so the monkey, the tree, the lights and all the decorations went noisily crashing to the ground. While Mom screamed, the kids shrieked and the dog barked, Dad took advantage of the confusion and snatched up Kippy and returned her to her cage, which was subsequently moved to the back bathroom. This way, if she were to escape again, at least she would be contained. When I saw my dad’s hand and arm two evenings later, I became less certain as to who had caught whom. His hands and lower arms were covered with bite wounds and scratches. Apparently, Kippy had put up quite a fight going back into the cage. By the time I arrived, Dad’s wounds were the only evidence of the mishap. The Christmas tree was back up and redecorated with new, unbroken ornaments, and happily, my new monkey remained in one piece, albeit banished to the back bathroom.


Kippy was a delightful monkey, but she never forgave my father for his part in thwarting her escape. Whenever he came within her view, she would grin – and this was not a happy grin – and screech at him, rattling her cage viciously. If she was out of her cage, she would lunge at him. In spite of these hostile greetings and having been attacked and bitten, Dad really wanted to be friends with her. He genuinely loved animals, and it hurt him to be so loathed.


At home in my trailer, I let Kippy run free most of the time, but I had also trained her on a leash attached to a belt around her waist so I could take her out and about with me. I always used the leash when introducing her to someone new, even inside the trailer, just in case. It seemed that my dad was the only human she had it in for, but after seeing what she had done to him, I wasn’t taking any chances.


Kippy was very bright, as are most monkeys, and loved to play games. One of her favorites was “catch.” I, or whoever was playing with her, would roll a tennis ball to her. She would catch it and roll it back. The first time I bounced, rather than rolled the ball, she got scared and jumped higher than the ball bounced. She figured it out almost immediately, however, and became good at catching the bounced ball -?even bouncing it back.


During one of my parents’ visits the following summer, I wanted to show off Kippy’s game-playing skills and figured it would be a good chance to let Dad try to make friends with her, so I put her on her leash and gave Dad a tennis ball to roll to her. She would throw/roll the ball back to him and they actually did engage in a game of “catch.” At that time, Kippy was better at catch than my little brother, so both Dad and the monkey seemed to be having fun. But while she was playing games with him, Kippy was also trying to play games with me. She was slowly gathering up the slack in her leash with her tail and coiling it up behind her. In concert with this, she was rolling the ball a shorter distance each time she returned it, drawing my dad a little closer. You can imagine the trap she was baiting.


Since I noticed her collecting the leash, I was carefully pulling back on it to eliminate the extra coils she was accumulating. When she finally thought she had Dad suckered in close enough, she leapt at him but was very surprised and dismayed when all the leash she had collected had gone missing, leaving her short of her intended target. Luckily she didn’t seem to realize that I was the one who foiled her plan. At least she remained lovable and playful with me, as opposed to trying to maim me as she repeatedly did my father.


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