Meanwhile Jill was outfitting Ned's wheelchair with a treat dispenser so he could offer Kasey a dollop of peanut butter on his finger.
"The treats help train Kasey to come to you and do tasks," Jill told Ned. "Everything should be followed by a peanut butter reward."
"Okay.... It's just..." Ned's hand was pretty much immobile. He shook his head, discouraged.
"Relax. We'll keep tweaking the position."
Jill worked with Ned until he could bend his finger enough to grab some peanut butter.
"Excellent." Jill squeezed his shoulder. "Over time, Ned, the exercise of giving her the peanut butter may help you gain mobility in this hand."
I couldn't help it; my mind leaped ahead to Kasey helping Ned regain full use of his left hand. Maybe his right hand, too. And then his legs, and then maybe someday, he'd...
"Let's start with the basics," said Megan. "Ned, ask Kasey to 'come, sit.'"
"Kasey," Ned said eagerly. "Come sit?"
She shot him a blasé look and didn't budge—like a strikeout at a singles bar.
"Try it with peanut butter," said Megan.
He scooped up a dollop. "Kasey, come sit?"
That did it. Kasey flashed to Ned's lap and greedily licked off the peanut butter, but then she was back on Megan's shoulder within seconds. Ned couldn't mask his disappointment.
"She'll come around," Megan reassured him. "Time and patience. Meanwhile, learning the basics takes repetition."
Ned nodded tightly, but I could sense his frustration. By the time he and Kasey had finished practicing their task, he was riding waves of nerve pain triggered by the commotion. Time to call it a day.
"Don't worry about Kasey," Megan said, preparing to leave. "She'll be curious tonight, following everything that's going on. She'll probably watch a little TV with you. Kasey loves TV."
That evening, as predicted, Kasey perched on her bedroom shelf, watching as we transferred Ned to his bed. She seemed particularly fascinated with the workings of the cranky old mechanical lift that took up a huge amount of real estate and looked like it came from the same medieval torture chamber as the halo. I always held my breath when I saw Ned suspended in the contraption; it looked ready to topple at any moment. Kasey seemed to have the same reaction.
I positioned Kasey's cage so she could keep one eye on Ned and the other on the TV, then went to get the monkey chow Megan had prepared. Kasey pinwheeled with joy when she saw it coming.
"Wow," Ned laughed. "Dinner and a show."
This felt like a precious step forward. I turned out the light and whispered, "Good night, you two."
Thrusting Ned and Kasey together—ready, set, bond!—was like trying to build a cathedral out of Popsicle sticks. Small steps forward were almost always followed by noisy stumbles back. It didn't help that our newest family member was something of a diva. She screeched at the dogs and my teenagers, and squawked if I moved her cage just a little bit too far or too fast. What's more, she required a regimented routine of feeding, manicuring, and cleaning that added yet more stress to our household. On the upside, Kasey provided Ned with constant visual stimulation. Even when she wasn't doing much—playing with her toys, reading her book—he watched her with endless fascination. They were interested in each other; that much was clear. But after the first few months of working together, Kasey was still acting like Ned was nothing but a boulder she had to climb over to get her peanut butter.
"This is normal," Megan told us. "It takes time to build the relationship."
"How much time?" I was afraid to ask.
At least Kasey was expanding the repertoire of tasks she could perform for Ned. She could fetch the remote, and bring him a bottle of water, put a straw into it, and bring it to his mouth, Ned rewarding her with peanut butter each time.
But repertoire was one thing. Rapport was quite another—Kasey was often standoffish, aloof even. We were discouraged. Ned needed connection and engagement. Instead he would lie for hours staring at the "Welcome Home" sign that still hung on the fireplace.
Every so often, there were hopeful signs of friendship. Kasey would stay on his lap for an extra second before leaping back to her cage. One day she pounced on a big stuffed monkey Ned's grandmother had given him, which perhaps Ned was getting "too friendly" with. Another day I watched in amazement as Kasey, who loved to scribble on any surface, dragged a pad of paper onto Ned's lap, held a pencil in her hands and, using her feet to hold the paper securely in place, made some fine-looking hen scratches. When she had finished her first draft of Mimi's Toes: The Sequel, she handed the pencil to Ned, in the monkey version of occupational therapy.
But the days were long, and despite all our efforts with Kasey and otherwise, Ned's nerve pain wasn't going away.
"There's the constant, underlying, sucks to be you sort of pain," he explained to me. "And then there's the lightning bolt ripping through my entire body sort of pain. It's like my tongue is on fire and my hands are stuck in an ice bucket." On this particular day he was having the lightning bolt kind. We'd tried everything, in the hospital and at home. Medication, massage, hot packs, cold packs—nothing seemed to help. I was beside myself as I helplessly watched my son suffer.
"Mom," he called out. "I'm on fire! Mom—please do something!"
I didn't know what I could do, but in that moment I looked to Kasey like I've never looked at another creature before. What did she see? Hope? Desperation? Somehow that dear little monkey understood just what was needed. As soon as I took her out of her cage, she clambered up on Ned's chair and wrapped her tail around his neck. With a deep, guttural "hoo-hoo" that was more like a whisper, she carefully positioned herself on Ned's chest, right over his heart. Both of them were very, very still. And then—I don't know—the anguish that had been so visible in Ned's face, his contorted expression, suddenly disappeared. His pain was beginning to recede.
Thank you, God. Thank you, Kasey.
"It's amazing, Mom," Ned said to me later that evening. "Kasey comforts and relaxes me like no drug. Do you think she actually knows how I feel?"
I looked over at Kasey, nonchalantly zipping and unzipping her purse. "I don't know—Kasey? What do you think?"
To which Kasey responded with a smug shrug and a "Skee kit."
"Just doing my job."
Adapted from Kasey to the Rescue: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle (Hyperion), by Ellen Rogers.
More Amazing Animals: What it's really like to live with a guide dog
From the November 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
We Hear You!