Sue Ellen Keeps Moving

Story by Kaeley Sullins, Animal Caregiver

This week marks the second anniversary of when Sue Ellen lost mobility in her legs. Sue Ellen keeps moving! It has been two years of watching a 50+ year old chimpanzee overcome any obstacle thrown her way!

Let me start at the beginning. Two years ago we noticed that Sue Ellen was no longer able to use her legs. She was walking one day and immobile the next. We were all very concerned about what this meant for Sue Ellen and her family. The first few weeks and months were scary for all of her caregivers and human friends. It took a few modifications to her enclosures and some medication changes to help set her on the right course! She has also been examined multiple times by our veterinarian team who suspect a tumor is pressing on a nerve. She received some laser treatments and physical therapy in terms of encouragement to move. So all of that coupled with some determination on Sue Ellen’s part, she took what the world gave her and literally, got moving.

Sue Ellen keeps moving: Wandering the Skywalks

Two years later and wow, just wow! She is, as I like to call her, a beautiful warrior princess. Nothing holds her back!  She has no problem moving all the way down our longest sky walk, multiple times. She will go back and forth on a nice warm day. When it’s colder, she moves through her indoor space with ease using installed bars above her head. She even goes up and down a step no less! If Dolly is nervous about something, Sue makes her way quickly and swiftly to be by her side!

Although she can’t quadrupedal walk like her chimpanzee family, she uses her amazing upper body strength to lift and move herself around her space. She seems to have regained some use in her legs, her toes wiggle and feet move, just not quite enough to use them fully or bear weight. But trust me, it does NOT stop her. She’s got a fire in her belly and nothing is gonna keep her down, especially if there’s a handsome man at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps with a bowl of delicious lunch. In case you didn’t know, Sue Ellen favors people with a beard and a deep voice.

Creative Caregiving

As caregivers, it’s our job to make our residents’ lives the best they can be. This means we have to get creative! We observe how Sue moves and make adjustments to her enclosure. All of us want her to be able to not only move freely, but also in a way that works for her. Her caregivers also try to give her opportunities to improve the strength she’s already gained in these past two years. We move bars or ropes this way and that way, add softer surfaces and remove obstacles. You name it, we’ve tried it. Sue has judged it and approved! On top of this, she even has her own special enrichment! She receives daily visits from friends, and new comfy clean nests twice or more every day. She even has her own tablet with games and caregivers select her favourite shows to watch!

The strength she’s gained in these past two years has truly been remarkable to witness. I am not going to lie, I was nervous when it first happened. But after watching her improve, push through boundaries and regain her confidence, I can’t help but feel inspired and amazed by her. It could have been easy for her to give up, but I don’t think she knows what that word means. She spent years in the entertainment industry, dressed in costumes and performing at parties. When she was older, she was moved to a lab and spent decades having medical procedures performed on her. I do not think she knows what giving up looks like?

It’s a crazy time in the world, but I hope you can take a lesson from Sue Ellen in that no matter what life throws your way, you just have to keep moving….literally!

Sue Ellen, a true story of resilience and determination. Read more about Sue Ellen in our Fall 2019 edition ofThe Scoop.”

Please consider buying some enrichment for Sue Ellen!