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Odd Jobs: Private Monkey Trainer

Odd Jobs: Private Monkey Trainer
Photograph by Roberto Gonzalez/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images

Lisa Whiteaker can’t remember any of her customers by name, but she remembers every monkey she’s ever worked with. When she talks about her cross-country house calls over the last few months, she rattles off monkey species and states like it’s a mnemonic device. “I did a macaque in Arizona,” she says. “I did a capuchin in Florida, a spider monkey in Ohio, and then three capuchins in Chicago.”

Whiteaker, 48, has been a monkey trainer since 1992, and her specialty is privately owned pets. She rehabilitates monkeys adopted by people with no primate experience—customers who, in her words, “saw The Hangover Part II and thought, ‘I want a monkey too!’” By her own estimate, she’s “fixed” 6,700 monkeys so far in her 20-year career, not just in the U.S.: She’s traveled from South Africa to Mexico to Panama to the United Kingdom, and she Skypes with hundreds of troubled monkeys and their owners every week. But getting an appointment to see her isn’t easy. “I’m completely booked until March or April of 2013,” she says.