Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Bringing Up Ziggy: What Raising a Helping Hands Monkey Taught Me About Love, Commitment and Sacrifice
Amusing, inspiring, guiding, and educational are only some of the adjectives I can use to describe Andrea Campbell’s Bringing Up Ziggy (1999, Renaissance Books, Los Angeles). In memoir fashion, Campbell relates her experience as foster mother for a Helping Hands capuchin monkey. When grown, Ziggy will be trained to act as a helper/companion and will then be donated to a quadriplegic, someone who is paralyzed and lives in a wheelchair. The cause is admirable, but the immediacy of a baby monkey needing a mother becomes the foremost feature in Campbell’s book; a true, seat-of-the-pants tale that is more lovely than love itself.
Andrea Campbell’s account of rearing Ziggy is really a story of courage. And her courage is driven more by intellect, as she is a woman who tries to understand and incorporate the challenging joys of this new lifeform into her own life, while coping with the needs of a growing family. Like a juggler, she takes on the motherly role for this unique monkey-child and stays the course in spite of scratches, bites, and surgery, all the while still caring for her own young sons and husband, in addition to managing a freelance writing career. What more can a person pull off? But Campbell’s greatest achievement, which unfolds in this book like pieces from a time capsule, is the growth of her selfless love for this needy and complex furry child, her capuchin. Despite knowing that Ziggy will eventually leave her to be the helping hands and love companion to someone else, Campbell wholeheartedly accepts this weird, new motherhood adventure for one of our closest evolutionary relatives. Her bond with Ziggy becomes a symbol of love between primates, and a link for humans who fight for a life filled with meaning and important minutes.
As an author, Andrea Campbell tells a personal and well-thought out narration and her story has many funny bits. For example, she doesn’t miss the moment when a neighboring child who is fascinated with Ziggy asks, “Does she play cards?” And a sense of humor shows up spontaneously in her other observations: “…these are just a few reasons why this organization is so successful at training monkeys and handling people—two very similar acts.”
What moves to tears is by her gift of explaining certain facts that help the reader to realize that animals have emotions and a right to be respected too. In Chapter 7, she tells the story of Roger Fouts and his dear chimp Booee. Fouts, a primatologist, has lovingly taught sign language and nurtured Booee for several years when they are parted by politics and funding. Booee suffers 13 years of confinement in a biomedical research lab and will soon be reunited with Fouts, his parent and friend. Fouts, clearly in despair over the brief reunion wondered if Booee would remember him, and how he would act? Booee not only remembered his former friend, but he spelled out his nickname “Rodg” in American Sign Language!
In a chapter called ‘Ladder of Emotions,’ Campbell shares how she was blinded for three days because of an accidental corneal scratch administered by an exuberant Ziggy. She uses this instance of falling away from comfort to raise our level of compassion by feeling for all those who have lost the luxury of movement, sight, or hearing.
Bringing Up Ziggy also teaches us a lot about monkeys’ behavior and emotions, their capacity for learning, their extraordinary gymnastic abilities, and certain other qualities humans would do well to study. For example, Campbell notices an exemplary quality in capuchins with their urge for immediate reconciliation, one of their most powerful inclinations. She suggests that this quality could be better taught our own children, if we just left them on their own more often to resolve their childish disputes. And Campbell emphatically reinforces her argument in favor of animals having soul by saying: “And who thinks that animals have no soul? I personally believe it’s better to err on the side ‘for’ soul.”
Andrea Campbell is a savvy author in that she makes sure her book doesn’t sound monotonous by including her family’s viewpoints about Ziggy in the chapter ‘Other Voices’. There is also an amusing photo album at the end of the book. And certainly some great quotes at the beginning of chapters. Take for instance: “a man however well behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved!’
Bringing Up Ziggy is an adorable read. In a sense it is a challenging book: How can one resist falling in love with it?