Lisa Whiteaker loves monkeys--a lot
By Kate Silver
I never thought I'd get rug burn on my neck from an animal's tail. But then, I never really thought a monkey would sit on my head for two hours, gyrate in an aroused manner on my shoulders or successfully and repeatedly French kiss a human. Until I met Herbie, that is.
Herbie's a White-throated Capuchin monkey. He weighs in at about 6 pounds and resembles a troll-eyed, wrinkle-faced old man. He's about two years old, wears diapers and clothes, if you can get them on him. He has the hands of a toddler, and the energy and curiosity to match. Throw on top of that the sex drive of an acne-prone, girl-obsessed teenager, and there's Herbie. Oh, and he loves those blondes.
Herbie's father, Phil Lee, warned me when we met that Herbie likes girls. He explained that the monkey was going to jump over to me and give me hugs and kisses, adding sheepishly, "He gives wet kisses." And he did. But nothing about my brown hair turned him on like the blonde who walked into the room. I was lucky enough to have the little guy on my shoulders at the time. Likewise, lucky enough to feel the gyrating and jumping that ensued. And the unforgettable "errrph errrrpphing" that came from the animal's mouth. Apparently, he acts the same from a distance, separated by glass and speed. "We can be driving down the freeway, 70 mph, and all of a sudden he'll be in the back seat and I'll hear him 'errrrph errrphing,' look around and there'll be a car somewhere with a blonde in it," his father explains. The Lees seem to have grown to accept Herbie's lascivious libido. Heck, it's nothing less than natural.
But what qualifies as natural should have its limits; and those limits apparently don't include the tongue. It all happened very quickly and was handled nonchalantly--a reaction that implies habit. Young Herb jumped from my head to the face of his former trainer--a blonde. Elated noises followed, expressing the happiness of both at their reunion. And here the exchange happened. "Herbie, give me kisses," she said, excitedly. The animal stuck out his tongue, the trainer hers, and both united in a beautiful trans-species union.
Lisa Whiteaker, the aforementioned affection aficionado, is a trainer, breeder and founder of Southern Nevada Organization of White-throated Capuchin monkeys (SNOWCAP). Her primate love affair all began seven years ago, while working as a vet tech. One day, a little black Capuchin monkey was brought into the office, her face severely burned. The little lass clung to Whiteaker, prehensile tail and all, and it was immediate love. The vet tech, who saw dozens of animals daily, just couldn't get enough--she needed a monkey of her own.
She immediately set out to research the pros and cons of primate pethood. But, to her dismay, she found very little information about raising a Capuchin. Nevertheless, she adopted MugWhy, her first baby. She raised her monkey intuitively, thinking herself into the wild and deciding what she, herself, would want and do. From here she developed a formula for raising and training the little guys. Whiteaker was quick to realize that there were others out there with the same questions and concerns about raising monkeys. She decided it her duty to jump in. "If I don't help these people to understand the proper techniques and the proper restraining order, who's going to? If I help guide these people, the monkeys are going to have a better life."
And this was the birth of SNOWCAP. Her goal was to make sure that prospective buyers had the proper education before investing in a monkey as a companion, rather than a pet. The first thing a buyer needs to know is that monkeys make lousy pets. You've got to elevate them to a different level before even thinking about taking one into your home. It's not a novelty pet, and shouldn't ever be relegated to a cage animal, one that's fun to look at and talk about. Monkeys must be included in the daily grind as much as possible, which is what she's done with "her four girls"--those being her monkeys.
"Anybody can take care of a baby," she says. "But it's taking care of a monkey after it reaches adulthood--that's where they make the biggest mistakes." Her major emphasis lies in the psychological well-being of the companion. Two of her girls came from abusive homes, a topic that still stirs her emotions. To avoid this kind of situation, she begins training owners from when they get the monkey to the time they no longer need her. She has a 24-hour hotline, and is willing and ready to take trips across the country to help people out. She prides herself as being the only breeder willing to go to such extent.
Her hard work and dedication has paid off. Besides a barrel of happy monkeys in her home, her organization that started with a modest three people now numbers 647. During the last year she's had more than 200 people in her home, a virtual monkey paradise. In doing so, she hopes to counter mistakes and misnomers before they happen.
It's difficult not to trip on the way up to Whiteaker's door. The monkeys playing in the upstairs windows are more interesting to watch than the walkway. They have two indoor rooms; rooms that far exceed any kid's dream. Jungle gyms, slides, ropes and toys keep the little girls busy. One room has a passageway leading to an outside gym, where they can bask in the sun and enjoy the marvelous Vegas air. Besides the rooms, there are cages brimming with toys and blankets throughout the house. The monkeys have been an enormous investment, and are the center of Whiteaker's life. MugWhy has even helped Whiteaker sustain a bond with her ex-husband. He'll come to visit his hairy little daughter on the weekends, and the three will all hang out and make pancakes together. It's regular, old wholesome family fun.
And the bonding doesn't stop there. These particular primates enjoy water. So, what else? They shower together. Yes, shower together. Like Whiteaker said, they're companions, not pets. And who better than a companion to train to get those hard to reach spots? Scrub-a-dub-dub. Once everyone's clean and it's time to go to bed, Whiteaker has one-on-one time with each of her girls. She cuddles with them and rocks them, feeding each one a bottle of, mmm, strawberry milk before placing them in their large cages for nighty-night.
Monkeys aren't for everyone, Whiteaker insists. She's more inclined to sell them to older couples, and those who can't or won't have children. These wrinkled little creatures are a full-time job, requiring endless attention, love and don't forget those intimate kisses. Essentially, the little guys are the equivalent of a 2-year-old child; one who behaves that age for 40 to 50 years. But look at all the give back. They'll eat your nits and groom you. They may even learn to scrub your back and wash your hair, if you train 'em real well. But, best yet, you can tell people to touch--or not to touch--your monkey. And that's priceless.