Get TV Monkeys Off Their Backs


Pet monkeys are not a good idea. That statement doesn’t appear to be rocket science. Yet, to some, the notion of having a pet monkey is appealing. And, perpetuating that appeal are monkey guest shots on TV sitcoms.

Will & Grace writers: There’s nothing funny about the monkey on Karen’s back

I just viewed the most recent episode of Will & Grace, and Megan Mullally’s character, Karen Walker, had a white-headed capuchin monkey on her shoulder for no real reason. The comedy writers of Will & Grace are among the best in the biz. Is that all they could muster? What’s so funny about this?

I have no doubt the actor monkey on set was well cared for. My concern is that these images support people thinking that having a pet monkey is somehow a good thing to do. And, we know that’s the case because of a previous pet monkey TV regular.

Marcel was a pet monkey on the TV show Friends belonging to Ross, played by David Schwimmer. Marcel, a white-headed capuchin monkey (once referred to as organ-grinder monkeys), loved to play the tune “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on the show. I suppose that’s funny. And certainly the TV show was classically funny. But believe it or not, people purchased monkeys legally (and not so legally) as a result of Marcel being on Friends. Of course, Marcel was a trained monkey (named  Katie in real life), and Friends was a sitcom. It wasn’t real life.

Marcel and Ross on Friends

In real life, depending on where you live, it may be illegal to own a monkey unless it’s a service animal. However, in general, a service dog is a far better idea than a service monkey, as monkeys aren’t meant as pets or, for that matter, are not ideal as service animals, either. Why? I begin with the obvious: They’re not domestic animals. They’re smart—really smart—and cunning in ways dogs and cats are not.

A Golden Monkey, an endangered species living in Rwanda, Africa

  • Monkeys are expensive to house. You need a secure enclosure, proper permits, and sometimes additional insurance on your homeowner’s policy. The enclosure must be very tall, because monkeys need to climb.
  • There is no one-and-done “monkey chow.” Monkeys require specially prepared diets, and that takes time and commitment. Sometimes monkeys figure us out, and “demand” junk food. They enjoy it but suffer health problems as a result.
  • Monkeys are not meant to live with people. “Tame” does not equate to “domestic,” and many suffer severe psychological distress without enough enrichment and social interaction. A monkey may bond with one or a few family members, but when others come to live in the home, monkeys may actually go into total rage (call it jealousy). Many monkeys seem to have awful tempers.
  • Monkey behavior isn’t easy to deal with. They can be out-of-control rambunctious, destructive, and may not hesitate to bite. Even gentle individuals may one day unpredictably become aggressive. The reason most monkeys who meet tourists on beaches in Mexico or the Caribbean don’t bite is that most of their teeth have been removed.
  • By human standards, monkeys are hardly clean and neat. They are quite messy.
  • Monkeys can not be toilet trained. Someone has to change those diapers and clean the enclosure.
  • Monkeys can transmit a variety of diseases to people, and we can make monkeys ill, too.

I hate that the writers of Will & Grace (or any TV show) have glamorized the notion of keeping a pet monkey. It’s simply a bad idea, especially for the monkey.



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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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