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Published: February 26th 2020
I sit; he sits; we face each other; the work begins.
Hands fascinate me. Holding hands, hand-in-hand, "Take my hand", "Can you give me a hand?". Some say the eyes are the windows to the soul. For me it's the hands. When I was taking care of my parents, I used to hold my dad's hand whenever I needed to tell him something important. He was nearly blind, and could barely hear, but if I held his hand in mine while I spoke, we seemed more connected. I miss my father's hands--strong, calloused, knobby. Accomplished hands. There are stories, there is history, there is trauma engrained in hands. It's all, right there, in the lines, in the way each finger joint articulates, and in the way each of the fingers relaxes just a little bit differently from the one next to it.
So......I don't want get all woo-woo here, but.....I had a kind of a special thing happen today. And it has do with hands, and very special monkey. This afternoon I was in the middle of a positive-reinforcement session with Samba, one of the spider monkeys I've been working with. The work is designed to create a more positive relationship by offering a positive reinforcer (today it was grapes and
Trust running in both directions.
mealworms) in exchange for performing a task (in Samba's case, allowing me to touch his hands, arms, feet, back, head). This makes it easier to check animals daily, administer medications, and provide them with an enjoyable way to interact with their environment, including the people who care for them. If the animal doesn't want to participate, the session ends. And the session only continues as long as the interactions are positive and productive.
Today's session proceeded normally, with Samba allowing me to inspect his right arm, then his left arm, and his right foot (we're still working on the left foot). Today, he even allowed me to groom his back, which was a first. But that wasn't the moment that got me all wooshy inside.
It was about mid-session, maybe ten minutes in. Everything going well. Warm, sunny day. I was sitting cross-legged outside the spider monkey enclosure in my usual "working" spot. Samba, about two feet away, on the other side of the mesh, focused, willing to work. I ran Samba through all of the usual requests, to which he responded beautifully. Then I just quietly said out loud, "well, what should we do now?" I hadn't asked Samba to do anything. But he stretched that long spider monkey arm through the mesh and gently took my hand, turned it over, palm up, and then rested his hand gently in mine. And the remarkable thing was that we sat there, his hand in mine, for a good thirty seconds--trust factor running in both directions. It was maybe the best thirty seconds I've had in a while. It reminded me of my dad, how we always seemed to communicate better if I held his hand. A monkey laid his hand in mine, and it was a very special thing.
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