Feb 24 - Jun 19, 1997

Our First Monkey Child

Mickey died unexpectedly from respiratory failure on June 19, 1997. He leaves behind his loving parents, two adoring dogs, a cat who hates him, devoted friends, and a box of broken things that will one day be repaired. He was buried with his life long teddy bear after attempts to revive him failed. Mickey was nearly four months old.

When the subject of raising exotic animals came up, Daddy told Mommy "Anything but a monkey." So it was of little surprise when she came home with Mickey, an African De Brazzia monkey a short time later. The baby-like expressions quickly won Daddy over and Mickey became a part of the family generating smiles for all who came in contact.

Born in a private zoo, Mickey was removed from his biological mother after just two days. Also raised in captivity, the biological mother was unable to care for him and he was pulled out of fear that he might be accidentally killed. His new Mommy quickly took over the role of raising and nurturing him until he was able to be on his own. It became a 24-hour labor of love.

At first, Mickey was too small to do much. The newborn diapers that he wore reached all the way to his arms. The first two days, he frowned almost continuously as he got used to his new surroundings. He spent most of time wrapped in a blanket clutching his small teddy bear. Initially he slept in the bed with Mommy and Daddy because it was easier to feed him at night. Later, he slept in a small box next the bed. Fortunately, he would usually sleep through the night before he learned to crawl out of the box.

Mickey's constant requirements for attention meant he was focal point for his parents life. He would often accompany them to work wrapped in his baby carrier or blanket. If they were lucky, he would sleep. Once he learned to suck his thumb, he was generally more content. As he learned to crawl and sit-up, he became more interested in exploring his surroundings.

Captive-raised monkeys are usually given stuffed animals that become their surrogate mother. They clutch them as security blankets. For the first few weeks, Mickey followed the pattern and bonded with his bear. Remove the teddy bear and he would stretch his arms and cry until the bear was pressed against his little body. Before long, however, he bonded more with his Mommy and the bear was often an afterthought or a convenient wrestling partner when the rest of the family was tired. He followed her throughout the house and gained confidence to go and do as he pleased.

This confidence led Mickey to a healthy and active life. He had free reign of the house and could find the jelly beans no matter where they had been hidden. He loved rocking chairs, playing with his dogs, and lifting the metal blinds to watch the people as they walked by on the street. He destroyed numerous house plants and garden flowers. He tore letters, magazines, and precious photos. Even at his death, he never quite understood that the cat did not like to be chased or have its hair pulled. Mickey grew up strong and full of energy. His species- characteristic beard came in as he grew to two pounds of muscle and heart. His his face lost the pink of being a baby and his face grew darker like a monkey, although the structure of face remained eerily human-like. The diapers - with a hole cut out for his tail - finally fit. He played hard all day long and was the source of endless smiles and amusement. And nearly every night, when he was finally tired and fists rubbed his little eyes, he would crawl onto the pillow, curl up in Mommy's hair, and fall asleep as he sucked his thumb. Daddy would pick him up with his teddy bear and put him to bed, arms stretched tightly around his bear.

The division of parental responsibility was typical: Mommy changed his diapers, cleaned the sheets and bottles, bathed him, arranged for baby sitters, fed him, and perfected the motherly lick-thumb-clean-face routine. Daddy built the jungle gym, threw him around, taught him to climb trees, and made him help paint the fence.

As a monkey, he was not from the most intelligent of breeds, but Mickey proved that a loving home is the most important part of learning. Unusual for a primate, he learned to swim and spent countless hours playing in the bathtub. He could recognize certain animals on television. He knew that the button on the answering machine made neat sounds. He learned at an alarming rate. In a single hour he learned to do things like sit up, suck his thumb, drink from the bottle, climb out of his bed, and crawl. Tasks like jumping, climbing, and eating raisins usually only took a few hours to learn. He learned to play peek-a-boo and give kisses. His proud parents felt certain of his career as a dentist due to his fascination with teeth.

Mickey lived a celebration of life. His short time on earth was filled with far more joy than most animals and even some people. He traveled by airplane, motorcycle, and bike. He went to the movies (even "Howard Stern"), visited the bank, selected videos, went grocery shopping, and out for ice cream. When the big Easter parade came, Mickey had just learned to play outside and he spent the day entertaining thousands of people. No two days were ever alike. He had endless energy. One friend described him as a "toddler on speed". Perhaps Mickey's favorite destination was the numerous schools he visited. He loved children and loved to play with the thousands that he met and entertained. For many kids, it was their first chance to see an exotic animal up close. Mickey's gentle nature meant that kids could pet him as he scampered across them. Sometimes he would even fall asleep as the children filed by to pet him. Lucky kids would get Mickey's signature kiss. He generated smiles everywhere he went.

He wasn't perfect. If he was told "no", he would often test to see if you really meant it. He threw tantrums at bed time if he was put down and wasn't ready to go to bed, even if he was exhausted. The saying was "fun, but a lot of work." Mickey very rarely bit, but once he did bite his Mommy. She promptly bit him back on his fingers. Shocked, Mickey quickly attempted to apologize and hugged and kissed his Mommy until he felt certain she still loved him. Then he went off and broke something else.

His time with Mommy and Daddy was coming to and end, but not as his parents thought. A short time later he was to go a children's petting zoo where he would get to do his favorite thing - play with the kids. Already he was being weaned from the bottle and eating nearly any solid food except bananas. Two days before he died, he visited the zoo where he was born and introduced to other monkeys to get him ready for the transition. Mickey had just learned to climb trees before he died. Though he had grown much, he was still a baby. He died sleeping with his bear, wrapped in a blanket just as he was the day he came home. He was buried with his arms tightly clinging to his original security blanket - the now worn teddy bear.

The house is empty now. His toys have been put away - too painful to remain in view. One shade remains bent. The space where his playpen sits seems awkward. There are no more sounds of little feet running around the house. No more sounds of jumping or objects falling. The house stays clean and his parents can only wish for things to be out of place. The house is eerily quite now, although the odd sound now and then raises false hopes as it sounds like something caused by Mickey. A clock ticks - unheard in the last four months - and echoes through the emptiness.

Mickey's death has meant countless tears to those that loved him. While not as traumatic as the loss of child, Mickey's distinct, happy personality and obvious love meant he was far more important than just another pet. He was as distinctive as any human and better company than many. The tears from his unexpected death aren't really fair to Mickey's memory though. The whole time he lived he never once saw tears; he just saw smiles. Lots and lots and lots of smiles.