My mother referred to me as “monkey kid,” remembering stories of me vaulting out of my cot like a gymnast at nine months old, scaling the high ladder of a bookshop and terrifying all the staff at two, and climbing trees with the speed and skill of a predatory feline at four. She told me stories of bringing me to the zoo as a baby and how all the monkeys would swarm around the glass, staring, wailing, and dancing, obviously recognizing one of their own kids.
Perhaps it was because of these tales that I felt almost spiritually linked to monkeys. Or maybe it was simply my nature. I gathered teddy animals, glass sculptures, novels, and magazine articles. I drew images of them and slept with one the size of a person, a stuffed gorilla called “Earl.”
As I grew older, I began to request one as a pet.
I looked at numerous types of monkeys and decided on a capuchin. I learned about what they would eat and what type of care they would need, and I located a vet who would treat them not far away. Then I began to save money.
I went to school and worked part-time as a surveyor at the mall. It took me two years to save up $2,000, the lowest price I had ever seen them priced at. I knew I’d need a few hundred dollars extra for food, bottles, diapers, toys, a bed, a cage, and the first expense of vaccines and a medical check. Then I realized I needed to stay working in order to save money for future vet treatment.
I was well aware of what I was getting myself into. Even though I was as responsible as I could be, my narrative would nonetheless end in misery.
I still adore monkeys… but in a different, better manner. And to emphasize the significance of keeping monkeys free and wild… I wanted to tell people about my experience. To put a stop to their… and our… anguish.
When I got $2,300, I went to a yard sale and purchased a huge cage. It stood five feet tall and three feet broad, with two “floors” linked by a ramp. I filled it with baby-safe toys that were brightly colored and really plush. For a week, I slept with all of the bedding to imprint my aroma on it. Then I removed the cage’s center “floor” and replaced it with clean tree limbs three and four feet tall with lots of branches, pruning off anything that would harm my new companion.
My parents had always said no, but by the time I had accumulated enough money, I was nineteen years old and attending college. I was still living with them, but after two years of accumulating money and demonstrating amazing patience and responsibility, they couldn’t say no any longer.
I had previously chosen a breeder, but when I phoned her, I discovered she no longer raised capuchins. I had to look into different breeders after realizing that all of my knowledge was two years old. I eventually discovered a breeder four hours away who had a three-week old male capuchin ready for a new home, but he cost $5,000.
“I can provide you with two.” I pleaded with her. I told her I’d get the remainder to her, that I’d work all hours of the day and night to pay him off, that I’d do whatever. She stayed silent until I informed her that I had been saving for two years, that I had a vet lined up, and that I had a lovely cage ready. Then she backed down a bit and said I could have him for $3,000 if I signed a contract pledging to pay her $500 each month for the following four months.
Well! If that didn’t need some deft feet! I asked my parents for assistance. They handed me $100 as an early Christmas present. I begged everyone else, vowing they couldn’t purchase me anything for Christmas and promising I’d pay them back. All of my pleading eventually netted me $2,400. It was insufficient. I prayed for an answer.
In the end, I sold my computer, a nearly new system that my grandmother had purchased for me for college, knowing that if she found out, she would be furious, but I needed the money, and the trade-off was well worth it to me.
I was so delighted I couldn’t breathe when I drove out to the breeder one frigid December morning, barely two weeks before Christmas. It was snowing outdoors, and the world was lovely. I had a basket in the front seat stocked with blankets, toys, and a large soft plush monkey for my kid to grip onto for the way home.
Paula, the breeder, lived in the country in one of those rambling trailer homes that used to be mobile but had been expanded so many times that it had to be called a house. On the side of the home, there was a large sun porch with cages piled floor to ceiling.
I knocked and Paula answered the door; I knew her from her photo on the internet. “Meet your new baby,” she continued, holding what seemed to be a newborn swaddled in her arms, a blanket wrapped bundle. She extended him to me, and I grabbed him and ripped aside the cover.
It had to be love at first sight! I can’t even express how I felt when I saw him, peering up at me, trustingly sucking his thumb, like a human child. He was surprisingly light and smaller than I had anticipated. I could have cradled him in one hand. He was dressed in a diaper and a white t-shirt with a blue duck on it. I literally sobbed.
Paula detailed future care with me as I handed her the money, proudly clutching my new pet. She stated I could bring him back at any moment to get his canine teeth, nails, and testicles removed for $500. And she could dock his tail right there for an additional twenty bucks if I wanted. I was shocked.
“What makes you think that?”
She said it would make diaper change simpler since I wouldn’t have to cut holes in them beforehand. To spare myself the hassle of snipping a hole in the rear of a diaper, I thought it seemed like a horrible, cruel thing to do.
She handed me paperwork proving his health and vaccination status. They appeared like they were produced on a home computer, amateurish and full of mistakes. That’s when I grew skeptical.
I thanked her and walked away. When I placed Koto (as I had called him right away) in the basket, he began to wail. I couldn’t believe how much he sounded like a real youngster. I scooped him up and laid him on my breast, unable to bear his heartbreaking wails. He curled his small fists into my sweater and quieted, clinging to me. I wrapped a shawl over him and drove away, back home.
Koto remained silent the whole trip home, holding onto the front of my sweatshirt and staring about in curiosity, but never making a sound. I brought him inside and showed him around the house when I arrived home, keeping his cage for last.
“Don’t worry, you won’t be in there for long.” I assured him I would. “You’ll never abandon me.” It was not a promise I could fulfill.
I went him to the vet I had scheduled for later that day and informed him about my concerns about the breeder. He promised to investigate her and found that my health and immunization certificates were falsified. He performed a thorough examination on Koto, concerned that a bad breeder would spawn ill animals. I was aware that monkeys may transmit human illnesses and that if Koto had parasites or herpes, he would need costly treatment and confinement. I hoped that everything would be well. It miraculously worked. Koto was in good health.
Koto never left me for the following two weeks. He clung to the front of my shirt or my hair constantly, sobbing even when I brought him down to feed or change him. I just dressed him for shots because I was afraid he’d be too hot. I became an expert at snipping diaper holes and cringed at the notion of anybody harming an animal only to avoid this two-second task.
I washed him often, and we played our first game. “Koto kisses!” I’d say. And he’d kiss me, then hoot and squeak, and I’d kiss him again. We could keep playing for hours.
Then it was time for me to return to school; by then, the authorities and the ASPCA had contacted me about Paula. I would not be required to give her any additional money since she was shut down and substantially punished. This was good news for me, but I feared what would happen to all the unfortunate monkeys in her care.
When I went to school, I left Koto with my parents. When I phoned to check on him in the middle of the day, I could hear him WAILING! My mother sounded frazzled, saying he was inconsolable, wouldn’t eat, and bit them when they attempted to pick him up. I raced home as quickly as I could, and Koto sprang into my arms as soon as I stepped in.
I became the “monkey girl” again after that since I brought Koto to school with me. At first, I carried him on my chest in a carrier. I expected to be informed he couldn’t attend, but my instructors never said anything, making just as big of a fuss over him as the students. Koto made me well-known!
When Koto became a little larger, he couldn’t stand the carrier and perched on my shoulder for the whole of each lesson, “grooming” me or playing with one of his toys.
I was often talking to Koto; he was my greatest buddy and frequent companion. I brought him into shops on a harness, perched on my shoulder, and no one ever said he couldn’t be there. Children were attracted to him like a magnet, but I was afraid Koto might bite or scratch them, resulting in a lawsuit. I was so worried that this would happen that I only allowed others touch him if he approached them first.
Every night, as I was doing my schoolwork, Koto would sit nearby, complacently screwing and unscrewing the top of a water bottle, an action that appeared to amuse him. He’d stretch out a hairy little hand and steal my pen or pencil, but I don’t believe he wanted to play with them; I think he simply wanted me to focus on him instead of that dull piece of paper!
Koto snuggled herself in my hair and napped. I was scared I’d roll over and crush him if I insisted on his sleeping in his cage, but I always woke up with him wrapped in my hair, so I ultimately let him do it without resistance.
Koto was continually picking up new skills. He loved hiding between the folds of a towel or blanket. I’d pretend I couldn’t find him, and then he’d leap out hooting and chirping, and I’d have to appear shocked and thrilled.
I was first concerned about allowing him out without a harness. But he was a little escape artist, finding ways out whether I wanted him to or not, and I got accustomed to it. He’d climb the trees in the front yard, sometimes sitting there as quiet as a stone for hours, or he’d play with the automobiles in the driveway. But he always returned when he was bored of it, and eventually I left my window open a little so he could come and go as he wanted.
When I took a shower, Koto was always anxious. He’d sit on the toilet, cocking his head in perplexed surprise as I walked voluntarily under the stream of water, and sometimes yell in panic, running at the door and holding onto the towel rack as if attempting to save me, particularly if I began singing. I’d open the door to allow him in, but the moment he felt the flow of water, he’d fly off like a pinball, shouting and weeping as if I’d struck him.
When Koto went outdoors to play one day and didn’t return for many hours, I became concerned. I walked outside and searched about, but I couldn’t find him. I became anxious as darkness fell. Koto had never gone out at night by himself before. I phoned and called for him, but he never showed up.
I was distraught that night, unable to sleep without Koto knotted in my hair. I paced, wept, and prayed. Then, late at night, very quietly, so faint that I couldn’t hear it, I heard the sound of his crying.
I tore outdoors and strained my ears, shivering in the cold of an October night, wearing only my nightgown. No, it wasn’t my imagination; I could still hear him. I followed the wails down the street to a neighbor’s home, where I discovered two young boys attempting to calm him down as they tried to shove him into an animal carrier. I was furious! I ran forward, yelling at them, and Koto put his arms around me, trembling and weeping. The lads fled, and I hammered on the front door, informing their parents of what had occurred. They returned the following day with their boys and demanded that they apologize. The guys had evidently enticed Koto with food and then tied him up in the garage in the hopes of keeping him. When he became too noisy in the garage, they decided to bury him in the pet carrier with blankets to quiet his wails. They were both bitten and scratched, but their parents didn’t blame Koto. He was merely attempting to escape his captors. I shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if their scheme had been successful. Koto would have died of suffocation.
After that, Koto disliked strangers. He was alright at school since he knew everyone, but he grew suspicious of individuals he hadn’t seen before and hostile with youngsters.
I was furious! I couldn’t take Koto to the shop anymore because the clouds of youngsters drawn to him drove him insane, and I had no doubt he’d bite them if given the opportunity.
I now left Koto in the vehicle anytime I went anywhere public. He replied by eating the seats, removing his diaper and putting excrement all over the van, and ruining anything I had left laying about.
Aside from school, I eventually had to leave him at home when I went out.
I could never forgive those guys for ruining Koto’s wonderful demeanor.
Aside from his aversion to youngsters and strangers, Koto remained a complete pleasure throughout his “adolescence.” I had heard that monkeys may become hostile when they reach the age of three or four, but Koto did not. He bit or scratched me seldom, and when he did, it was never serious.
When I finished from college, I moved out with Koto. Because few apartments would tolerate my bringing a monkey into the picture, my hunt for a house took much longer than usual. When I finally found a property that didn’t mind, I had to increase the pet and security deposit and submit copies of his immunization and health documents.
Koto was still the ideal pet at five years old, and he hadn’t cost me anything in terms of vet care. But then he developed a rather… unsettling habit. Koto began masturbating. I knew monkeys could do it, but I’d never seen him do it before, and it made me know he was approaching sexual maturity. I asked my vet whether neutering him would help, but he replied it wasn’t certain. Primates, like humans, copulate for pleasure rather than procreation. Koto may still have sexual impulses even being neutered.
The only definite method to quell Koto’s need to copulate would be to remove both testicles. The thought made me quite uneasy, and even my vet stated that he did not like performing it. It was a traumatic experience for the animal, followed by a lengthy, painful, and costly recuperation. But if I didn’t intervene, Koto may get sexually dissatisfied and then angry. He’d be miserable, and that didn’t sit well with me.
I started contacting breeders across the state to see if I could stud Koto. They all had their own breeding pairs, and since they didn’t know Koto, they didn’t want him to impregnate their monkeys. A few of them said they’d let Koto mate but wouldn’t pay me. And I was aware that it was only a temporary fix, which my vet warned me would only whet his sexual appetite.
With little choices, I reluctantly opted to have Koto’s testicles removed. A choice I will always be sorry about.
Koto’s surgery was complicated by his sensitivity to the anesthesia, something they didn’t know about until they already had him under. His heart stopped beating early into the surgery and they had to bring him back, twice.
The surgery took a long time, and when it was done, I went to see him in the OR recovering cage. He was very limp and drowsy, and not at all like himself. I cried and told him I was sorry.
Koto’s recovery took a long time, and paying for his post-operative care was not easy. Once Koto’s physical wounds had healed, I assumed he would return to the gentle, loving animal I had cared for since he was three weeks old, but Koto would never be himself again. Koto might have physically recovered, but his spirit was damaged.
He became quiet and withdrawn. He bit me more often, and my wounds were more serious than they had ever been in the past. He did not want to play, his appetite failed, and he spent more and more time laying on the floor of his cage, depressed, and embittered.
He hated the vet after that, growling and showing his teeth whenever he saw him. He probably would have bit him if he could, but the vet knew how Koto felt about him, and took extra precautions to avoid self injury.
It broke my heart to see Koto so unlike himself. I kept waiting for him to “recover” but he never did, growing, with each day, more and more wild and uncontrollable. He began to groom himself to the point of bleeding, bald patches and sores breaking out over his little body. He was too thin and would eat only when I forced him to.
Then one day, I was trying to force him to eat something and he lashed out at me. He grabbed my hand and bit down HARD on the skin between my thumb and forefinger. I cried out and he darted off down the hall like a shot. I stared at my hand in disbelief, the skin hanging off and blood pouring all over the floor. The pain was incredible.
I wrapped my hand in a towel, cussing and crying. I had never felt such pain and I knew I needed medical treatment. But I also knew they might take Koto away, might kill him. And I couldn’t stand that.
I doctored my hand myself, washing it all the time, and using gauze, tape and butterfly strips to put my skin back together. I was afraid of Koto, but I was trying not to be. I tried to treat him the same, tried to play with him and encourage him to eat, but I was always on the defensive, ready to jerk away from him. I also stopped being dominant, cowering away from him, giving him commands in a weak, frightened voice. Koto began trying to exert dominance on me, sensing my weakness, smelling my fear. He would growl and hit at me, or scratch me If he didn’t get his way.
I loved Koto. But I was afraid of him, and it wasn’t going to get better. On top of that, my hand was infected, it felt numb and lifeless where he had bit me, and the skin was a strange color, white and dying. I had to go to the doctor.
I lied to them when I got there. I told them I had cut myself with a knife by accident. I could tell they didn’t believe me, but they couldn’t force me to tell them the truth. My hand was infected, and badly. It took weeks of antibiotics and doctor’s appointments, twenty stitches and countless cleanings before it was healed. But like Koto, my spirit was damaged.
I could no longer love Koto as I once had. Our relationship was reduced to one of fear and violence. If I got too close I received a switch scratch or bite, nothing like what he had done to my hand, but enough to make me remember it.
I considered the unthinkable. I considered having his canine teeth removed, his claws amputated. But I knew I could not do that to him. It was my meddling with him in the first place that had spoiled his temper.
I had tormented and deformed him, for what I thought, was his own good. But it had caused irreparable damage, and now, we would never be the same.
The end came one gloomy day in fall. He was almost six years old. I came into the living room and found him smearing poop from his diaper on the couch. I yelled at him and he turned on me like a wild animal, how could I have forgotten that, that is what he was all along? I was blessed to have this bit of wild nature on my side for so long. But nature is unpredictable, and dangerous. And as much as I loved Koto… so was he. He was a wild thing, a creature ruled by millions of years of instinct. A creature that should have been free, but instead was made a captive, a plaything of humanity, a servant of mankind.
All of this went through my head in the seconds before he was on me, biting and clawing and screaming. I was stunned, I wanted to beat him off of me but I couldn’t hit him. I tried to restrain him and felt his teeth sinking into my arms, his claws ripping at my shoulders. Then he darted off, like a cork out of a champagne bottle and exploded out the window.
I went to the hospital, I told them I had been attacked by a dog. They sewed up my arms, doctored my shoulders, telling me I would need rabies shots if they couldn’t find the dog. It took fifty-two stitches to close all my wounds. I was at the hospital overnight on IV antibiotics. I got a tetanus shot and a medical bill for three thousand dollars. I cried. The same amount of money I had paid for Koto.
When I got home, Koto was in his cage, grooming himself bloody. He went into a frenzy when I came into the room and I knew he would attack me again so I shut the cage door. He went even more berserk, having never been caged before.
All night he wailed and shrieked, growling and hissing. I sat in the corner of my room and cried.
The next day I called my mother. Although Koto had never bonded to her as he had to me, he had always been friendly and lovable with her. She was afraid to try and calm him, but I knew there was no one else I could count on. As soon as she came in Koto calmed down. I left the room and listened through the door as she whispered to him. She was shocked and angered to see me so battered, but she knew how important Koto was to me.
Eventually I cracked the door and peeked inside. My mother was holding Koto and he was holding onto her as though her were a baby again. My mother took him home with her.
He has been there for two years now. Whenever I go to visit him he growls at me through the bars of his cage. I talk to him sometimes for long hours, reading to him and offering treats. Sometimes, when he seems calm enough, I let him out and we play peek-a-boo or kiss-kiss, but it’s not the same, and it will never be the same as it was. Eventually I do something that rubs him the wrong way and he bites me and runs away. I know he can never be in my home again.
My parents take good care of him, but they do not try to forge a bond with him, knowing it would only lead to heartache.
My poor Koto…
You should be free,
Swinging through the trees,
And laughing in the breeze,
Unfettered like a child,
Beautiful and wild.
The best part of you has died,
And I dare not question why,
For if there is someone to blame,
I would whisper my own name.
~ For Koto ~
Since I have written this, Koto has died, called home by the Father. I am comforted knowing, that where he is now, there is no pain or sorrow. There is the embrace of his true mother, the children he never had, and the freedom… of the wild.