The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Monkey Business Provides Chimpanzees For Media, Judie Harrison

Original Article Dated Sept 17, 2004

Judie Harrison sits at her kitchen table, telling stories of how her 2-year-old Mikey came to be famous, and feeding him baby strawberry yogurt with an infant spoon. In between feedings, she takes a spoonful herself.

Most people might think twice about sharing flatware with a chimpanzee, but Harrison loves Mikey like a child.

Give momma a kiss, she tells him, and he presses his simian lips against hers, making a smooching noise. She laughs. Mikey is the love of my life.

Harrison's affection for him, as well as for Adam, Eve, Jenny, Joey, Katie, Louie and Shelby is unmistakable - from the way she lovingly talks to them to the tremendous number of toys in their roomy cages. And that's after half her ear got bitten off and her hand was broken three times.

They're just so cool, she says. I get to stay home with them all day and I get to teach them things.

Harrison's primates have made it into big-budget Hollywood movies, music videos and European advertisements, among other things. Their talents have literally transformed the Harrison family into Monkey Business, the 2-year-old home-based company that started with chimpanzees and monkeys at birthday parties.

It's a business that started with the 46-year-old's childhood fascination.

Ever since I was a child I always wanted a monkey, she says with a smile. I had my father convinced, but not my mother.

As she got older, Harrison became complacent visiting Mopie, a 461- pound silverback gorilla at the National Zoo.

He and I just made a connection, she explains with obvious pride. We would go there all the time.

We go there five or six hours at a time, adds her husband, Greg, a purchasing agent at W.L. Gore & Associates.

Love for Reggie

Soon after, Harrison joined the Simian Society of America, where she learned more about primates. Then, in May of 1998, she rescued her first monkey, Reggie. The 4-year-old came to the Harrisons from a private owner who had pulled out his teeth and abused him in many other ways.

That's when the real fun started.

After he punched Greg Harrison in the eye, Reggie took all of 10 minutes to destroy the Harrisons' living room.

We had these spider plants hanging from ceiling and he was jumping from plant to plant, dry wall was coming out of the ceiling; he pulled down our expensive curtains, Greg Harrison starts.

We don't have any of that nice stuff now, Judie Harrison says with a laugh that could only come from someone with a sense of humor. It took two years to calm him down.

Once Reggie was easier to handle, Harrison started taking him to schools where she talked about monkey habitats, how they use their tails and all the ways in which they communicate. She also used tricks to demonstrate Reggie's hand-eye coordination.

Harrison started out offering her services for free, but when she decided to quite her Certified Nursing Assistant job in the summer of 2002 to stay home with her babies, she charged $50 for school/ educational visits and $100 for parties.

From there the business snowballed. Today, Monkey Business charges $250 for Mikey to do birthday parties.

It was a surprising turn of events for her husband, who was skeptical about the whole thing.

I said, 'Who would ever want a monkey at a birthday party?' he remembers.

But Greg Harrison met his wife at Delaware Park, where she used to sell weddings.

If you can sell weddings at a racetrack, you can sell anything - monkeys at a birthday party, he says.

However, there are those who don't believe in keeping primates as pets.

She cannot keep working them in the future and pay for their way, says a sanctuary director in Florida, noting that Harrison is already in her late 40s and chimpanzees can live to be 65.

Although an owner may legitimately love his or her pet primate and have the best intentions, the scenario usually ends in a miserable life for the animals, says the sanctuary director, who requested her name be withheld.

I don't care what these people say, she says. I have seen this 100 times over. Any one of the 10 legitimate chimp center directors in North America - would say the exact same thing to you.

Because of their intelligence and strength, primates often do not make good pets as do dogs and cats, says the sanctuary director. And when an owner isolates the primates from their fellow species, it makes it difficult for sanctuaries to house them with others.

Movie bits

Harrison now makes thousands of dollars with her primates making appearances in this summer's Manchurian Candidate with Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, European advertisements for Puma shoes and an upcoming album cover for hip-hop group the Black-Eyed Peas.

All said, Harrison pulled in $74,000 last year and is on her way to making $82,000 this year.

And it's a good thing, too, because her business isn't cheap.

Mikey alone cost her $45,000 - the same as a Mercedes sport utility vehicle.

He's my second mortgage, she says of Mikey with a laugh. Pointing to Louie, she adds, He's my third mortgage.

Baby capuchins typically cost $6,000, and Harrison has six of them.


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