Sitting on a creaky, wooden bench surrounded by tall trees, Linda Loethen listens to her monkeys interact with one another in their squeaky cages on a hot, sunny day. There are 130 of them. Loethen had to speak over her monkeys, hearing them swing around in their screeching cages, with their high-pitched shrieks consuming the backyard.
“When I started, it was just a hobby, and now it has grown into a full-time, 365-day-a-year job,” Loethen said, as she received kisses all over her face from Rudy, a 33-year-old spider monkey.
The TLC Primate Retreat, which occupies her roomy backyard, was founded by Loethen, and has expanded over the course of 20 years. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to sustaining small primates that are endangered or are in need. Her husband bought her first monkey for her as a companion pet, and she continued to learn more about them ever since.
“My husband knew I really liked monkeys and that’s why he bought me one, and then eventually I did this as a job,” Loethen said. “He started this retreat with me and was a huge help. He passed away last year.”
She is currently working on building seven more cages to better accommodate her primates. The retreat is home to various breeds of New World primates, many of which are facing extinction. She works every day to provide education to people about the endangered species, as well as the difference losing them due to extinction will make to our environment.
“Our goal when we first started was to have 12 cages…but 12 cages got filled up really fast, and now we have 38 cages,” Loethen said. “We need at least seven more new ones just to be able to take care of the overflow we have.”
Her day-to-day routine includes waking up early to feed and care for the animals, as well as to tend to the property all day. Maintaining the property consists of a lot of manual labor and maintenance.
After Loethen’s husband passed away, her assistant, Ginger Ribinski, took on more responsibilities to help her manage the organization. When Ribinski is not at her daytime job as an educator, she is tending to the retreat. She expresses how difficult yet rewarding this work is.
“It’s funny because some people use essential oils to relax or they have a cocktail, but for me, I put a monkey on my head or sit in the cage with them and it’s just the best relaxer,” Ribinski said. “It is very therapeutic.”
Loethen has six different breeds of primates that occupy the retreat, two of which are endangered. Both Loethen and Ribinski work endlessly to educate people as to why it is so important to maintain a sustainable environment.
Different species of animals are affected by changes in the environment, leading them to have to adjust to a different lifestyle in which they are not meant to be in. This causes them to face extinction. Linda continuously receives more abused, ill and unwanted primates.
“We take every opportunity we can to talk to people about primates,” Loethen said. “We throw away common misconceptions by telling people that they don’t throw their poop, and they don’t always bite you. They really do have a place in certain people’s lives.”
Loethen said she never thought this organization was going to expand as much as it did, and she did not expect how hard the work would be. People are constantly calling her and sharing their worries and concerns about their troubled monkeys, and she never turns them down, always taking more monkeys in. All of the monkeys share cages so they are not alone.
“It is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding…there are some days where I don’t want to do anything, but then I hear them and their voices and it feels so good to get it done and interact with them,” Loethen said, as she strokes a little, calm marmoset with her pinky.
People are encouraged to volunteer at the retreat, which is in need of people to help maintain the grounds, as well as to interact with the monkeys.
“I just think it’s a great place for people to come and volunteer, and I hope more people come out,” Ribinski said.
Loethen continues to care for her monkeys, and hopes to carry on to educate young people as to why it is so important for our environment and planet as a whole to protect these primates from going extinct.
“I stand behind my primates,” Loethen said. “I hope to continue to educate people about these monkeys, and it is a life-long commitment of mine to make sure they remain safe and cared for.”