The United States’ largest animal sanctuary, Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, bid farewell recently to their eldest and most beloved resident, Kitty the chimp, who passed away at the age of 51.

While the sanctuary, run by The Fund for Animals, a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) affiliate, came to be Kitty’s home for more than a decade and a half, her story began years before when she was captured in the wild at the age of 10 and held captive in a laboratory as a breeding chimp.

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Like many chimps in lab settings, Kitty languished, and her true intelligence was never acknowledged. Instead, she was simply thought of as a baby-maker, and was forced to give birth in the name of “science.”

HSUS CEO and executive director, Wayne Pacelle writes that Kitty gave birth to 14 infant chimpanzees over the course of her life, and even a set of twins, which is rare among chimps.

However, Kitty was never able to care for most of her babies, as all but four were immediately taken from her – they were to become a new generation of test subjects.

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Unlike many other chimpanzees over the years, Kitty was thankfully retired from the breeding program in 1997, which is when she arrived at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.

From 1997 onwards, Kitty finally discovered what a life filled with love felt like. She became a matriarchal leader of her sanctuary group that was comprised of her best friends, Lulu and Midge, and became loving caretaker when Lulu suffered from a stroke.

According to Pacelle, “Kitty immediately stepped in and began to care for her by bringing snacks and magazines to her side.”

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Lulu returned Kitty’s kindness when she fell ill, becoming Kitty’s “constant [companion] until the end,” Pacelle writes.

While Kitty will be sorely missed by the staff at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and her sanctuary friends, her kind nature that survived despite what she endured in lab captivity will always be remembered.

With the recently signed Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act, facilitating the transfer of nearly all research chimps to sanctuaries, we will surely hear more stories like Kitty’s that demonstrate the amazing ability of these intelligent creatures to recover after a life of cruelty, which will hopefully show the world just how wrong it was to keep them in labs in the first place.

Image source: Diane Miller / the HSUS