Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Roger Fouts and Booee

I have been looking for the accurate story of Roger Fouts being reunited with one of the chimps he had taught sign language to.  I had thought it was 60 minutes and the chimp was Washoe.  I actually saw this story on 20/20 in 1995 while visiting my parents....I was frozen in place for an hour after the show with tears running down my cheeks.  I am so  glad to have found the description.
Here is the entire story.  It is so moving I wanted to include all of it here in Roger Fouts own words: 
Booee is the one on the left.  He is speaking American Sign Language with Bruno.

In early 1995 I got a call from Dean Irwin, a producer of 20/20, the ABC news magazine. While planning a show about the morality of conducting biomedical experiments on chimpanzees, he had learned about Booee and my other former chimpanzee students at LEMS I P, the biomedical lab owned by New York University. He asked me if I would be willing to visit the lab and be reunited with Booee in front of television cameras.
I wanted to say 'No.' I had deliberately avoided LEMSIP since Booee and the others were transferred there in 1982. Seeing them would be agonizing because I knew there wasn't a damn thing I could do to rescue them. As for helping them, I'd tried that already. In 1988 Jane Goodall and I had sent a student of mine, Mark Bodamer, to LEMSIP to start an enrichment and activity program for all 250 chimps. The program was a great success, but unfortunately it was scuttled after Mark left.
Mark never got to see Booee - Booee had been transferred to another lab temporarily - but he did visit Bruno for me. When Mark began signing to him, Bruno answered with two signs of his own: KEY CUT. I wasn't sure if Booee would remember me if we saw each other after more than a decade. But if he did remember, he might well think I was there to free him, something I could not do. It would break my heart and his.
But I also knew that visiting Booee would make for some very good television. We could take millions of people inside a biomedical laboratory, which I'd dreamed of doing since I toured Sema seven years earlier. If there was any chance that this wide exposure might improve conditions or help Booee, then I would do it.
A few months later, I found myself in the back seat of a long black limousine, sitting next to anchorman Hugh Downs as we drove to LEMSIP. A soundman and cameraman, seated across from us, taped our conversation. I couldn't help thinking that the back of the limo was bigger than Booee's cage. Hugh Downs wanted to know ifBooee would remember me. I didn't know.
I couldn't begin to guess what thirteen years alone in a cage would do to someone's mind and personality. But the closer we got to LEMSIP the more I hoped that Booee would not remember me, that he would see me asjust another lab-coated visitor passing through. I didn't want to sign GOODBYE to Booee. I was sure I would break down.
When we got to the lab, we were instructed to put on white gowns and caps. Then Dr James Mahoney escorted Hugh Downs, the cameramen and me to Booee~s windowless barrack. Booee lived in a hot unit', where all the inmates were infected with one virus or another. He was infected with Hepatitis C, a virus that can cause progressive liver disease. Through the door I could see my friend sitting alone in his cage.
He looks the same, but bigger, I thought.
The last time I saw Booee he was a young teenager like Loulis. Now he was twenty-seven.
This is really happening. It's too late to turn back.
I hesitated for another moment, then entered the room in a low crouch. I approached Booee's cage uttering gentle chimpanzee greetings.
A big smile lit up Booee's face. He remembered me, after all.
BOOEE, BOOEE, ME BOOEE, he signed back, overjoyed that someone actually acknowledged him. He kept drawing his finger down the center of his head in his name sign - the one I had given him in 1970, three years after NI H researchers had split his infant brain in two.
YES, YOU BOOEE, YOU BOOEE, I signed back. GIVE ME FOOD, ROGER, he pleaded.
Booee not only remembered that I always carried raisins for him, but he used the nickname he had invented for me twenty-five years earlier. Instead of tugging the ear lobe for ROGER, he flicked his finger off the ear. This was like calling someone Rodg' instead of Roger'. Seeing him sign my old nickname floored me. I had forgotten it, but Booee hadn't. He remembered the good old days better than I did.
I gave Booee some raisins, and the years just melted away, the way they do between old friends. He reached his hand through the bars and groomed my arm. He was happy again. He was the same sweet boy I met on that autumn day decades earlier when Washoe and I first stepped on to the chimpanzee island at Lemmon's Institute. That was before everything, before the stun guns and Dobermanns, before the adult colony and Sequoyah's death, before Yerkes and Sema. I was a young know-it-all professor then, right out of graduate school. I yelled at Booee one day, and he humbled me in front of my very first college students by lifting me off my feet and letting me dangle there. For twenty-five years I'd been telling my students about how Booee embraced me and forgave my anger toward him.
Look at him now, I thought. Thirteen years in a hellhole and he's still forgiving, still guileless. Booee still loved me, in spite of everything that humans had done to him. How many people would be so generous of spirit?
As we signed back and forth and played CHASE and TICKLE through the iron bars, I forgot about the cameras and the millions of people who would be watching this. For one wonderful moment I even forgot where we were. But only for a moment.
I MUST GO NOW, BOOEE, I signed after a while. Booee's grin changed to a grimace, and his body sank. I MUST LEAVE, BOOEE. Booee moved to the back of his cage. GOODBYE, BOOEE.
As we left LEMSIP, I shook hands cordially with the director, Dr Jan Moor-Jankowski, as if we were two colleagues who had just transacted some mundane piece of business. I was overwhelmed by shame. I was ashamed of Booee's hepatitis, ashamed of the professionalism of Moor-Jankowski and myself, ashamed of the respectability that hung over all this suffering.
After our limousine pulled out through the heavily barred security gate, no one spoke for the whole drive back to the hotel.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this story Rae. I've read before about chimps who can communicate, and about chimps who are experimented on, though it seemed like two separate worlds, two different groups. This story really brings a face and a personality to the countless anonymous victims of cruel research, shows their inherent awareness and desire to be free. For all that Booee remembers from when he was younger, surely the other chimps who are experimented on remember their time in the forest before being torn from their families.