Photo: (Lousville, Ky.)Courier-Journal
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A bill filed this week to allow primates to be used in Kentucky as service monkeys to aid paralyzed people is drawing opposition and - the sponsor says - jokes.
"Obviously there's a lot of jokes, but this isn't a joke," said a tearful state Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union.
said in an interview Friday that he filed the bill on behalf of a
Kentucky family that wants to use a service monkey to assist a girl who
was paralyzed from the neck down in an automobile accident. Schickel
said he is friends with her father and planned to check with the family
to see if they want to go public with their story. "This is a family
looking for solutions," he said. "I don't know if this is one or not."
The bill is drawing criticism, however, from the Primate Rescue
Center in Nicholasville, which says it is home to more than 50
"unwanted" monkeys and apes, including some that were used in programs
like the one Schickel is proposing.
"The intentions of people who
are in favor of this are honorable, but misguided," said April Truitt,
the center's executive director. "Wild animals aren't suitable as
companion animals. Having a wild animal in your home puts both the
animal and the owner at risk of getting injured."
The bill defines
service monkeys as "any capuchin monkey that is individually trained"
by a registered nonprofit "to perform tasks in a home environment for
adults living with paralysis who are unable to perform day-to-day tasks
and activities for themselves."
Schickel said he doesn't know if
the bill will get anywhere. "I'm here to open the discussion, talk
about it, see if we can work something out," he said. "If we can't, we
can't. If we can, we can. This is about trying to help people if we can
help people. ... I knew when I filed the bill there would be pros and
Americans with Disabilities Act regulations do not recognize monkeys as service animals, but Schickel said some states do.
said legislative staffers who drafted the bill have been in contact
with Helping Hands, a Boston nonprofit that places service monkeys.
Messages left with the agency seeking comment were not returned Friday.
Helping Hands' website says monkeys' "dexterous hands and amazing
fine motor skills" help paralyzed people perform tasks that other
service animals can't, such as turning pages, retrieving objects and
inserting straws in bottles.
Kentucky Department of Fish and
Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Marraccini said the agency has not
taken a position on the bill.
Primates have not been allowed to be
brought into Kentucky since then-Gov. Paul Patton issued an executive
order in 2003 in response to a suspected outbreak of monkeypox,
Marraccini said. Besides the risk of disease, he said there have been
cases where monkeys attacked their keepers.
subsequent regulations made it largely illegal to possess a primate in
Kentucky unless it was owned before the rule took effect.
"They're just incredibly strong, as well as they're dangerous," Marraccini said. "They don't make good pets."
state Department of Public Health is still reviewing the bill but has
concerns about public health risks it would pose, said Cabinet for
Health and Family Services spokeswoman Gwenda Bond, declining to
The U.S. Justice Department guidelines for the ADA
limit service animals to dogs and housebroken miniature horses,
according to The Associated Press, which said the guidelines are not
binding on states or local governments that can make their own rules.
Truitt said it's unclear how many states allow primates to be
possessed. She said Kentucky is one of a few states that ban primates as
pets but don't have an exemption for using them as service animals.
American Veterinary Medical Association also has opposed primates being
used as service animals because of animal welfare issues, the risk of
human injury and disease.