There Are Monkeys Living Like People All Around Us

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Photo: NYT

Last week, we were appalled and fascinated by Travis, the chimp who, before he went mental and pawed off the face of one of his owner's friends, lived the luxurious, slightly banal life of a Connecticut divorcée. As it turns out, Travis's lifestyle was not so unusual. Today's Times tells us that not only are there approximately 225 privately owned chimpanzees living in the country, there are "many thousands" of different kinds of primates owned by humans who treat them like children — albeit horrible psychopathic children who attack them in horrific brutal ways. Let's meet some!

The Times introduces us to four strapping boys:

Higgins: Age 7, lives upstate. He's a "TV fanatic" who particularly enjoys Little House on the Prairie and Walker, Texas Ranger. He also enjoys ice cream, grapes, raisin bread, and holding hands with his owner, Bob. They used to sleep together until the night Higgins put his "steel-like fingernails" through Bob's scrotum.

Benjamin: A 12-year-old capuchin monkey living in New York City, Benjamin bathes and sleeps with his owner, painter Allen Hirsh, and plays with Hirsch's 12-year-old human daughter. Benjamin plays different games, however. For instance, one time he bit off two of his own diseased toes.

Joey: Macaque Joey used to shower with his owner, Christine Bowers, and wore the little flannel hunting shirts and jeans that she sewed for him. But then one night while he was watching traffic (a favorite pastime) from the window of Christine's Illinois house, he freaked out: “He shivered and I leaned over and said, ‘Come here, baby, are you cold?’ and he exploded,” Ms. Bowers says. “He started biting and screaming at me, biting any place he could touch. It was a nightmare. We tipped over furniture, I would have killed him if I could.” Now Joey lives on a nature preserve.

Mikey: Things were going great for chimpanzee Mikey: He knew how to brush his teeth with a Water Pik, loved playing with building blocks, and had his own bedroom (the human child had been moved to the basement to make room for him). Plus, thanks to his momager Judie Harrison, Mikey's star was rising: He'd made appearances on Conan and in a Dolce & Gabbana ad, and had been on the cover of a Black Eyed Peas album and the New York Times Magazine. He even had a website. But then one day while cleaning Judie's teeth, he decided to do a little extra dental work. “All of a sudden I feel a severe pain on the right side of my mouth and then I felt something dripping down my face,” Ms. Harrison says. “And there was all this blood, and I look over at Mikey and here he had my tooth in his hand, roots and all. He had pulled my tooth out with one finger.” He's no longer in show business.

My Monkey, My Self [NYT]