By Shannon Lane @Shannonroselane
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Videographer / director: Dominic Anaya
Producer: Shannon Lane, Ruby Coote
Editor: Ed Rius
Lauren Elizabeth McAna from Loxahatchee, Florida, has two Brazillian Tufted Capuchin monkeys; three-year-old Emerson Alexander and five-year-old rescue Chica Morey.
The 23-year-old veterinary technician has suffered with mental health problems throughout her life, resulting from physical trauma and she sees her capuchin monkey Emerson as her support animal.
Lauren told Barcroft TV: "Raising a capuchin monkey is very similar, I would assume, as to raising a human infant, they are all time inclusive, they require huge commitment and a lot of time.
“In the wild a capuchin would stay with mom for about two years, so in captivity it is very important that you spend a lot of time with them as infants. So much so that the first year I had Emerson in my life I didn’t work, I stayed home with him 24/7 to raise him, he was more or less attached to me at the hip.
“He went everywhere that I did, from cooking dinner to showering, everything in the house he was on my shoulder riding my arm.
“Once he got past about a year and a half I did accept a position as a vet technician at a local exotic clinic under the pretence that Emerson could come to work with me every single day, so he came to work with me everyday for about a year after that so all in all about two and a half years of his life I was with him 24/7."
Lauren is a trained veterinarian technician and exotic animal trainer. She got into the animal training profession after seeing the amount of monkeys being mistreated and rehomed.
She said: "I got into exotic animal training when I realised that there is a huge need in the primate community for assistance and for information, a lot of states are not like Florida.
“In Florida we have tight regulations when it comes to requiring a primate and in some states there are no regulations, people can just go out in impulse and buy a monkey from a breeder and no questions asked.
“So there is a huge need for training and my previous background in training primates and working as a exotic animal trainer I have kind of specialised that now to work in the private sector with primate owners particularly because there is a huge need for it.
“The way I see it is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and when you invest the time and commitment into training, these monkeys are so intelligent, they need that, they thrive on it, it is an awesome outlet for them to really be enriched and express themselves."
Lauren’s troubled past has resulted in her suffering from panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder, but she says her monkeys have helped her through it.
She said: "I was a sexual assault victim from the time I was three till the time I was seventeen so I had very tough childhood.
"I have horrible flashback nightmares and Emerson has been a huge help through all that.
“When I have a very hard day and I am depressed from crying he knows, he will get up to me give me kisses and climb my face and kiss my belly, he starts to act very sweet.
“If I am having a panic attack then he crawls up to me and will never leave my side he is definitely able to read my emotions - we are very very connected that way.”
Due to the support her little monkey has given her, Lauren believes that there should be more recognition for monkeys as service animals
She said: "Emerson is a register support animal. I suffered from panic attacks because of my CPTSD, which is absolutely crippling for the people who haven’t experienced one. And Emerson again the monkey is intelligent to have the ability to understand and interpret the human emotion.
“One thing about service animals that they differ from ESA [emotional support animals] is services animals are allowed in the public sector, meaning they are allowed to accompany and assist their human caretakers out in public.
"Emotional support animals are not, which to me is not fair to those who do have invisible illnesses that could really benefit from having our ESAs with us all the time.
"Obviously with ESAs being allowed in public, there have to be much heavier regulation. But I believe that something that really should looked into. Currently serving monkeys are not allowed to be service animals. The animals that are allowed to be service animals are dogs and miniature horses, not primates."
Whilst there is a human element to Lauren and her monkey’s relationship, she still ensures she allows them freedom to be monkeys.
She said: “I try to allow my monkeys to be monkeys as much as possible. I see them with what they are and respect them for what they are. I love them like they are my kids. But they are still monkeys so I try to give them that freedom.
“I give them a lot of time to be themselves and in turn they’re very well behaved in my house and they are very respectful of the rules when they do come in the house.
"And they’ve kind of made that correlation that this is their space, they can do what they want out here.
"But when they’re inside they have to listen to me so, there really is a huge benefit to having those outdoors play areas for them as well as having an indoor area that’s just truly theirs."
After her traumatic experiences, Lauren has a simple ‘American Dream’ - to live in a nice house with a husband and her monkey family.
She said: "I live in Florida now but I see Tennessee or South Carolina in our future. A lot of land, a big cage for my monkeys, even larger than I have now, just a happy family. That’s all I’ve always wanted in life, my biggest dream is, a nice house, a husband, my monkey family, maybe kids someday just, the average American dream.
"I never wanted anything special I just wanted my happy little family and this is my happy family, it includes two monkeys.
"I firmly believe that if Emerson would have not come into my life I would not be here today, Without question and I still say that today, he absolutely saved me so I feel like I owe it to him. To give him the best possible life I can. He did so much for me and I wont be able to do anything near as much as he did for me.”