March 7, 2009

See also Chris Jone’s blog

January 21, 2008 (click on “Announcements” to read more)

Congratulations to Helping Hands for the Handicapped on their recent news coverage for the program to train capuchin monkeys to aid quadriplegics. Click here for video: MSNBC Nightly News, Helping Hands for the Handicapped

I was involved in this program at the inception, when I was working at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. Mary Joan Willard was part time faculty there and several other places, and looking for a place to pursue this “crazy” idea she had to train monkeys to aid quadriplegics. I proposed to my supervisor that we allow the monkeys to be kept there, right across the street from Harvard Nutrition School and the home of the monkey colony then. The somewhat dubious, but very kind, Dr. Edlin said, “Kayce, if it will make you happy, and you can keep it safe, you can go ahead and do it.”

As the director of the Lab Animal Facility, I was responsible for both monkeys, and was the original trainer for Tish. Tish and Crystal were the two original “prototype” monkeys. I had experience training some demanding tasks with exotic animals, having trained various marine mammals to participate in research-related tasks. However, the monkeys were very different. Seals and sea lions are generally very fast and aloof – at least initially. Therefore, when I went to train the monkeys, I made sure to have all my materials and plans ready and rehearsed, so that I could “hit the ground running”. But with this approach, Tish just started yelling at me! I tried again. Then again. Each time, she yelled. Why was this one and a half year-old monkey yelling at me???! Finally, I just gave up. I sat there quietly and put my hand out and said “I don’t know what is upsetting you but I am so sorry… ” I was interrupted. Tish took my hand and placed it on her head, hugging it into place, and sucking her thumb. I was speechless, and very moved. Tish was NOT aloof. I was not saying hello before I rushed into the work, and she was upset! I never forgot this important and wonderful trait of monkeys. I did not make that mistake again.

I left Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and shortly after, started training dolphins and other marine mammals for Mystic Marinelife Aquarium, in Mystic, CT. Tish came with me, as M.J. Willard had closed down her program, and had “sold” Tish to me. Tish was otherwise slated to return to a terminal malaria study. Later, M.J. sold two other young monkeys to me, also surplussed from the program. (Crystal was placed, not fully trained as an aide, with a partner.) My apartment was at the level of the drawbridge tower and when I came home that night, the operator was waving me down from his tower. Over the noise of the traffic, as I sat on my bike waiting for the drawbridge to come down, and the gate to go up, he yelled out “There are monkeys running all over your apartment!! Good luck!!” I would definitely need it. M.J. Willard had not locked the cage, thinking the monkeys would not be able to get out. She was very, very wrong.

The two monkeys were named Maura and Hellion (named for our secretary, Helen, and my dear assistant, Emile Mornault, or as I used to call him, E-million. In Mystic, Tish and I, and later Maura and Hellion, worked with Linda Richards, a woman with paraplegia and limited use of her hands, and an unlimited sense of adventure. She was great with the monkeys, patient, brave, and endowed with a great sense of humor. Together, we continued the work that had been set aside. Boy, did we have some adventures! It was some time later that I really learned how to proof a job in complex environments, and it was later still that disposable diapers were invented! These monkeys were very young then, 6 months to 3 years. We learned from these monkeys that it would be better to start them when they were older. Sexually, the monkeys mature at 3-4, but mentally, there is still a lot of development to happen.

Tish and the other monkeys were known and loved all over Mystic. The monkeys loved people and they loved learning and adventure. They loved their friends and trainers. It was an interesting and happy time. During the day, I would train at the Aquarium, and at night I would often walk the 1/2 mile to Linda’s and we would train monkeys. For awhile, I would ride my bike, with a monkey on my shoulder, but when a distracted motorist screeched off the road, nearly hitting me, I went back to walking.

In November of 1978, I was contacted by Medical World News. M.J.Willard had told of the work we had been doing and how she had disbanded it, but that I was continuing to train the monkeys. They called me. Did I think it could work? Absolutely, I said. Could they come out to do a shoot? I talked to Linda and it was a go. The article came out in “Medical World News,” January 9, 1979. It was a two-page layout showing Tish, Linda and I, working.

Meanwhile, I had been hired as a Lead Keeper of marine mammals and bears at the National zoo. which is part of the Smithsonian Institute. I was due there on January 11. Amidst preparations to leave, phone calls were coming in day and night from all over the world. I got 500 letters in one week. All from the two-page spread in Medical World News! I called M.J. Willard…. “Do you want to try this program again?” Yes, she said. I arranged to send the publicity and the two younger monkeys, Maura and Hellion, back to her, where they would continue training for a life of close friendship and mutual care with a quadriplegic. Initially, Tish was going to be an assistant to Linda, but her landlord would not allow her to have a monkey, calling them filthy and dangerous. They were not. However, there were only two apartments that Linda could access in all of Mystic and the other one was on a steep hill that got icy in the winter. Tish would stay with me, and I would continue to work and live with her and to demonstrate what monkeys could do with and for people, when possible.

When they left me, both monkeys had mastered many basic skills. They were safe to work with did not bite. They knew their basic obedience skills: how to get their halters and leads on voluntarily and to come in and out of their cages, to sit quietly on the trainer’s shoulder and stay there, no matter how the trainer moved, to came instantly when called, on or off lead, indoors or out. They knew many body parts and the names of many, many things. They could be dressed, in protective gear if weather required. Vets could examine them and give shots, TB tests, etc. They were better trained and prepared than most people’s dogs will ever be. And yet, there was still so much work to do. It is a long process to take lessons learned in sheltered settings, and transfer them to the real world, with all its distractions and chaos. We learned that in some early photo shoots, taken in the shops of various friends and merchants in Mystic. Very patient friends, I might add. Eventually Tish went on to meet two presidents and their wives, and attended many gala events, always with impeccable manners.

Amongst the things we did to help publicize monkeys as aides, was a story for National Geographic World Magazine, April 1, 1981. We were on the cover. It caused family turmoil. Initially, my family did not believe it was a real magazine, thinking it was an April Fool’s joke I had dreamed up. Until they saw the article inside of the magazine.

That was thirty years ago now. Tish has touched many lives, and helped to bring Helping Hands for the Handicapped into being. She is an amazing being, and in my eyes, an ambassador and a hero.

© Kayce Cover January 21, 2008

NEWSLETTER! See left for link to PDF version. Thanks and congratulations to Cheri Voellmann, editor. More to come. Join at the For Animals link, left, to subscribe.

Thanks to all at Memphis! Great time on TV, for the Perception Modification semi-private session, the open lecture, the seminar and the trip to the zoo. We are working on a date. It is planned for me to return to Memphis for SATS and the Family Dog II, in February. Special thanks to Jodi Rouillard, our hostess, and Alan Turner, SATS LLI, trainer.

January 2007 – Happy New Year!!!

Hi all- Bonjour toutes

Just out in Planet Cheval: natural horse planet, Issue 6, Jan/Feb 2007, Natural Horse Planet

“SATS: How to call a horse

This is the first in a series of articles on Syn Alia Training System, a method of teaching horses by Kayce Cover, which is free of force or physical pressure during learning.”

“SATS: Comment appeler un cheval

Le premier article d’une serie consacree au ‘Syn Alia Training System’ , une methode d’entrainement de chevaux selon Kayce Cover, exempte de toute force ou pression physique au cours de l’apprentissage.”

(please pardon my keyboard and my French and lack thereof ;>)

Translation by Andy Beck/ traductie par Andy Beck

In Francaise & English

Thank you/ merci beaucoup!

December 16, 2006

French Text: now see “Translations” link on left, please.

Also New PORTUGUESE: STSA sobre BRIDGES* e Como Ensiná-las (Translations)

December 7, 2006

A gauche, un resume de B & T (Pont & Cible) en francaise.

(traduction d’article par Celine Dumont, trad.a.

December 2, 2006

2007 Seminars are being posted this week. There will be a number of new events and seminars, including Trainer Development Days in Virginia in January, the premier of the “SATS and the Therapeutic Riding Program” planned for Baton Rouge, LA, also in January. Much more; please see the events and seminars (left) page for details.

Kayce Cover

Copyright August, 2006 Kayce Cover

NEW! “SATS and the Family Dog” and “SATS and the Career Dog” Seminars

Read about a brand new seminar line up, being added to the already excellent seminar offerings. Get thee to our premiere seminar (held at Cambridgshire, UK, Last weekend in September, contact:; or to register, go to seminars for registration forms.)