Monkey Provides A Helping Hand

It's a relationship that's lasted longer than most marriages.

Robert Foster and his monkey Hellion have lived together 25 years.

Foster's a quadriplegic who was disabled in a car crash. Hellion is his hands and so much more.

"She's my family. She's my kid," says Foster.

Their story started as an experiment first reported by 60 Minutes in the early 80s: a capuchin monkey - the "organ grinder monkey'" - most commonly used in circus acts and lab tests, trained to do for the disabled what they cannot do for themselves.

Since then, both have aged, and as CBS New Correspondent Byron Pitts reports, the experiment has grown, not simply into a colony of monkeys, but a college.

Kookla is one of 25 capuchin monkeys now in training to do what Hellion's been doing for years.

There are currently 88 such animals in homes across the country. All of them trained at what's affectionately known as the "monkey college."

The non-profit program, called Helping Hands, is based just outside Boston. For two years, monkeys are trained to cook, bathe, play music and even scratch a person's itch.

"This is what we think is the world's first monkey college of its type," says Judi Zazula, the program's executive director.

And what would a college campus be without dormitories equipped with color TV and a stereo system? No more than two monkeys are assigned to a room.

"Monkeys are doing things that people can't do, and people are doing parts of tasks that aren't as well suited to the monkey," says Zazula.

Much like a team, says Zazula, "They're able to do things that neither could do by themselves."

There are an estimated quarter million disabled Americans who could use a pair of monkey hands: hands, says Foster, that have made his life worth living. But it's a partnership with limitations.

"You can get over there. You can pet your dog or cat. I haven't been able to pet her," he says. "I've never been able to hold her or pet her.

"I've always wanted to."

Still, they have been together 25 years: through Foster's seizures and two bouts with cancer.

It's an experiment that became a friendship.