My visit with Trixie began with Melissa, Glen and I sitting at the table on their deck while Trixie peered down at us from her perch in the eaves. My offering to her, a peeled banana, sat on the table largely ignored. Glen sat next to me and after a while, Trixie came to settle in his lap. Her back was to me but lo and behold, what’s this? Her amazing prehensile tail was suddenly creeping into my lap. Oh what a wonder that tail is — an incredibly flexible, supple and strong fifth limb. She can pick up Cheerios and nuts with it. On a whim, I put my finger in the center of the curled-up tip, and was beyond thrilled when I felt her squeeze it.
Over the course of the evening, Trixie went from this cautious introduction to sitting in my lap and letting me cuddle her. I’m still thinking about that wonderful experience. All the while, Melissa and Glen told me what it’s like to live with her. For example, she’s very mischievous. What she wants above all else is the remote control for the TV, probably because she sees how much time it spends in her humans’ hands — prized by them, prized by her. When Glen’s parents came to visit, he and Melissa had to go out for the evening and instructed Mom and Dad under no circumstances to let her have the remote. The instant they left, Trixie pulled all the cushions off the couch. Dad got up to stop her, putting down the remote in the process, and guess what Trixie’s next move was? She held onto her prize for the rest of the evening. You can see from this story how her mind works.
Trixie has a wonderful enclosed space in Melissa’s store so that she doesn’t have to be home alone all day. Her mind coordinates with her body in amazing ways. Glen says, “At the store, I once saw her grab a rope, somersault off it, and vault into the hammock, all with lightening speed. She has total command over that space. She’s always 100% aware of her environment and where she is in it. Even now I’m astounded by how fast her mind manipulates her body. Her arms, legs and tail go to exactly the right place in a coordinated instant — even when the branch, pole, rope or landing place is behind her. She always has at least two points of contact so she doesn’t fall.”
Trixie sleeps in bed with Melissa and Glen and I can just imagine how blissful that is for a little monkey. Where else would she want to sleep? She thinks TV is real and when a ball is pitched toward the camera, she ducks. She makes all her noises through her nose and when she’s excited to see you, lets out a huge roar. Trixie likes to groom the cats which they enjoy until she tries to persuade them to play with her.
When the family first started living with Trixie, it was thought that she had a twitch because she would shake her head very quickly. What became apparent is that this is her (very human-like) way of saying “no.” Whether Melissa is asking Trixie if she’d like to come to work with her, or asking if she wants to go outside, a hand is presented to her. If the answer is “yes,” Trixie takes the hand offered. If the decision is “no,” it’s the shake of the head. “People don’t say ‘yes’ enough,” Glen observes. “It’s too much ‘no.’ And then there’s smiling. Maybe you’ve heard that monkeys take smiling as a hostile gesture. Well, I’ve been smiling at Trixie since she was three months old so she understands exactly what it means. She’s super fast, strong and smart. And what a memory! She’ll see me put something in the pantry and two weeks later, remembers it’s there and looks for it. You won’t win against her. Even we can’t win against her. She is everything we imagined and then some. She has given us so much more than we ever expected.”
Here’s my last story (for now) about Trixie. She was cuddling in my lap and I was cherishing the squeezes she gave my thighs to say, “Keep scratching my back!” Melissa gave me a marshmallow to give her. When I did, Trixie bounded up to the eaves again just in case I might be inclined to change my mind and try to take it back. When she was finished eating it, she came right back to my lap. And a few minutes before I had to leave, she gently wrapped her tail around my neck. Ohhhhh, Trixie. You melted my heart into a puddle and I’ll never forget you. It was very hard to say goodbye — but I was comforted by an invitation from Melissa and Glen to visit her again. I can’t wait.
Footnote: Steven Wise is an American legal scholar who specializes in animal protection issues, primatology, and animal intelligence. He teaches animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. His work is more meaningful to me now that I’ve met Trixie.