The Dark Side of the Monkey Business

Empty nesters looking to relive all the fun of raising children without reliving the turbulent teens are adopting some of our closest relatives: monkeys.

Families are dressing up capuchins, feeding them at the family dinner table and treating them like any other member of the family. They're called monkids.

Lori Johnson adopted her monkid, Jessy, when Jessy was 7 weeks old. Lori's children had all moved out and, struggling with an empty house, Lori fell into a deep depression.

"I thought about babies, but I didn't want to go through the preteens all again," Lori said.

This led her to another solution, and to Jessy.

"She thinks she's a child. She doesn't like other monkeys at all," Lori said. "She'd rather play with the kids."

'Couldn't Imagine Not Having Her'

Jessy is with Lori all the time. When she was a baby, she latched onto Lori's arm 24 hours a day for six months.

"Six months that I showered, went to the stores, cooked, slept, everything with her on my arm, because she wouldn't get off," Lori said. "You couldn't get her off."

It was nine months before Lori could leave the room without Jessy having a panic attack. There were other difficulties, as when Jessy started to nip at Lori and her husband, Jim. They eventually had her teeth removed.

Although there have been challenges, Lori said she couldn't imagine life without Jessy.

"I couldn't imagine not having her," Lori said. "We do something all the time with her."

Jessy gets dressed up in an assortment of handmade dresses, goes everywhere with Lori and Jim, sleeps in the same bed as them and loves fast food. Her favorites are Slim Jims and "monkey" fries.

And what does Lori say when people ask her why she would want a monkey for a daughter?

"I wanted a monkey because it's not going to grow up," Lori said. "And I'm not going to grow up."

This arrangement isn't unique. There are hundreds of videos on the Internet of proud parents enjoying their capuchins. It's estimated there are 15,000 monkeys living with humans as pets or surrogate children in the United States.

'I Had a Baby'

Unfortunately, not all monkid stories end so happily.

Angelle Sampey has always wanted a monkey since holding her first baby monkey at a petting zoo as a child. Several years ago, single and with a career as a motorcycle drag racer taking off, Sampey thought adopting a monkid could fill the void.

"I can't race and, you know, bear a child. And I thought, you know, adopting a monkey as a surrogate child would be a good thing to do," Sampey said.

Sampey found her capuchin on the Internet and bought him from a breeder in the Midwest. She picked up her "son," Andy at the airport.

"I was so happy. I had a baby," Sampey said. "I could dress him, put a diaper on him and he would drink [from] bottles."

Like Jessy, Andy also latched onto his new mother for six months.

"But to me, that was cute. He loves me. I didn't see it as this animal needs his mother," Sampey said.

Everything seemed right in the beginning, and Sampey spent thousands of dollars building a special room for Andy in her home. But Sampey's joy became an emotional nightmare, when she found out about how monkeys are sometimes taken taken their mothers.

Sampey learned after she bought Andy that mothers are routinely darted with sedatives so the babies can be removed.

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