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July 20, 2006

Helping Hands

Service monkey helps couple

She's visited the French Quarter in New Orleans, taken a stroll down Bourbon Street and, despite being less than a year old, played the slots at the Palace Casino in Biloxi. She even has plans set for a trip to Seattle, Wash., later this year.

Seems a bit unusual for your average 10-month-old, doesn't it? Maybe. But Sissy, a white face capuchin monkey, is anything but average Ñ even for a monkey. She is a SARA (Service Animal Registry of America) certified service animal currently being trained by Sheila Huff.

Huff has raised exotic animals for years, owning a traveling petting zoo for 11. Though she has scaled back from the nearly 150 exotics she used to own, Huff currently houses about 50 alpacas, monkeys, lemurs, llamas, kangaroos, donkeys and marmosets at her home in Holly Pond.

Huff saw the need for a service monkey after a recent shoulder surgery made it difficult for her to reach certain items. Her husband, Burean has also had multiple surgeries Ñ four hip replacements Ñ making it difficult to perform certain everyday tasks. It may seem a bit unusual to have a service monkey, but Huff said because of life span and learning curve, animals such as monkeys and miniature horses are beginning to replace dogs. Capuchin monkeys like Sissy have an average life span of about 40 years, much longer than any dog.

"It can take seven years to fully train a service dog," Sheila said. "By then the dog is halfway through its life."

The Huffs insist Sissy isn't really an animal, she's more like child.

"She's as much like a kid as anything you've ever seen," Burean said.

She's avidly interested upon meeting new people, hopping cautiously toward them to inspect their hair and whatever devices they may be carrying. She has her likes Ñ music by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood Ñ and dislikes Ñ baths. And being a monkey hasn't made her immune to the reality show phenomenon.

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