Pets.ca - Pet forum for dogs cats and humans 

-->

She talks to the animals

badger
January 29th, 2005, 10:44 AM
By ELIZABETH ABBOTT
Saturday, January 29, 2005

Animals in Translation:
Using the Mysteries of Autism
to Decode Animal Behavior

By Temple Grandin
and Catherine Johnson

Scribner, 356 pages, $36

What sort of person can be the foremost consultant to America's vast slaughterhouse industry -- including suppliers to McDonald's and KFC -- and also an authority invoked by the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)? The answer is Temple Grandin, the animal sciences professor and writer who has demystified autism (Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism; and Emergence: Labeled Autistic), and uses her different experience of life to study animals and apply her knowledge to their well-being.

Grandin's description of herself as an anthropologist on Mars gave neurologist Oliver Sacks the title for his book about brain-disordered people, and is a metaphor for her struggle to adapt to life with "typical" people. Animals are her vehicle to success. "Autism is a kind of way station on the road from animals to humans, which puts autistic people like me in a perfect position to translate 'animal talk' into English," Grandin explains. "I can tell people why their animals are doing the things they do."

Though her extraordinary new book has a co-author -- Catherine Johnson, a writer who specializes in the brain and neuropsychiatry and is raising two autistic sons -- it is Grandin's story, told in the first person. Johnson must have smoothed and organized the writing process, but wisely, she did not soften Grandin's blunt commentary. Their collaboration has produced a breathtakingly honest and informative book about the nature of animals, and how Grandin designs ways to ensure millions "a decent death."

She believes that "dogs really are man's best friend"; she discusses them in depth, and even includes an epilogue, Behavior and Training Troubleshooting Guide, largely about dogs and how to co-exist with them. The easiest way to succeed in this is to choose the right dog. Mutts are your best bet, Grandin says, healthier and more emotionally stable, hence better behaved. They constitute 60 per cent of the U.S. dog population, but are responsible for only 26 per cent of fatal dog bites. (And bear in mind that male dogs bite 6.2 times more than bitches; unneutered males more than double that rate.) The best dogs have dark skin (but the fur can be light), but avoid pink noses, blue eyes, pink nose and white fur on most of the body -- "too many albino characteristics" suggest potential medical problems.

Grandin also wades fearlessly into the pit-bull nature-or-nurture controversy, and takes on Rottweillers as well. Rottweillers and pit bulls are, "on average, much more aggressive than other breeds," she concludes. Some are "good sweet dogs," but "don't let people tell you that Rottweiler or pit bull aggression is a 'myth.' It's not. . . . There are some animals, including some dogs, who are just plain trouble. It's not their breed and it's not their owners. It's them. They're born that way, and they are bad, dangerous dogs."

On one level, Animals in Translation is Grandin's running dialogue between autism and animals. Like animals, autistic people think in pictures rather than words, and are "smarter than we think." Understanding them comes, she writes, only when we "try to see what the animal is seeing and experience what the animal is experiencing," their feelings, pain and suffering, thought processes and, often enough, genius.

The main difference between animals and "typical" humans is that we have "mixed emotions," while animals, like autistic people, are unambiguous: They either love or hate, for instance. "I can't even imagine what it would be like to have feelings of love and hate for the same person," Grandin writes.

Because her autism limits her perceptions of the dynamics of human interactions, Grandin has to intellectualize her way through them. She recalls how, as a worshipful student interviewing B. F. Skinner, "the god of behaviorism . . . tried to touch my legs."

"You may look at them, but you may not touch them," she told him, then returned to discussing animal behaviour. Afterward, as she reviewed what he had told her -- "We don't need to learn about the brain, we have operant conditioning" -- she had an epiphany. "I don't think I believe that," she concluded. She had just taken her first step along the path to understanding animal behaviour through trained, empathetic observation and research.






Grandin's expertise in animals extends to their erotic lives. Animals lust as well as love, and may even demand sexual foreplay: Brahman bulls, for example, "refuse to give the semen for twenty minutes because they want twenty minutes of throat and butt scratching. . . . They'll delay the sex in order to get some good, serious stroking." One farmer told Grandin that before he can collect his boar's semen, "I have to stick my finger in his butt, he just really loves that."

In her chapters Pain and Suffering and How Animals Think, Grandin is at her most insightful. If she had her "druthers," humans would have evolved as vegetarian plant-eaters. They didn't, and we have feedlots and slaughterhouses, "so the question is: what should a humane feedlot and slaughterhouse be like? . . . What does a cow headed to slaughter need in order to have a happy life?"

The first principle is that animals shouldn't suffer, should feel as little pain as possible and should die as quickly as possible. Grandin's autism helps her understand and evaluate both animal pain and suffering. After her hysterectomy, she mimed spayed dogs by crawling on the hospital floor and concluded that perambulating on all fours hurts less than walking upright. Nurses also told her she needed fewer painkillers than "typical" patients. Additional experiences and research led her to conclude that animals (like autistics) generally feel pain, but less than "typical" humans.

At the same time, she cautions against assuming that all animals will reveal the extent of their pain. Cattle and other prey animals are hardwired to hide pain, because showing it makes them vulnerable to predators. "Sheep are the ultimate stoics" who mask their pain and weakness from wolves. Predators, on the other hand, are "big babies . . . cats can yowl their heads off when they get hurt, and dogs scream bloody murder."

Much worse than pain is the intense fear that torments both animals, especially prey animals, and autistic people. Grandin's own fear and anxiety, intolerable without antidepressants, also constitute her greatest bond with animals, especially her beloved cows.

The chapter Animal Welfare: Taking Care of Animals the Wrong Way outlines how Grandin incorporates her knowledge of animals into industry guidelines for their humane treatment, for example devising ways to eliminate terror-provoking experiences as the animals go to their deaths. Grandin argues passionately against the complicated, 100-item kind of audits that "language-based" officials and academics design. "Verbal people drift into paper audits, in which they audit a plant's records instead of its animals. A good animal welfare audit has to audit the animals, not the paper and not the plant," she emphasizes.

Inspectors tend to worry about details such as flooring and measurements; Grandin cares only about the cows. "Are they falling down? That's all I need to know." If they are, then you examine the floor. The consequences of long checklists can be tragic. Grandin toured European slaughterhouses reliant on complicated checklists, and "the plants were horrible."

Grandin's own guidelines have five key standards: 1) 95 per cent of animals must be stunned or killed correctly on the first attempt; 2) 100 per cent must remain unconscious after being stunned; 3) no more than 3 per cent squeal, bellow or otherwise express pain during the entire process; 4) no more than 1 per cent fall down; 5) electric prods are used on no more than 25 per cent. Committing any of five cruel actions, including beating or dragging live animals with chains, automatically fails a facility.

After McDonald's adopted Grandin's guidelines and axed a major beef supplier that failed them, "the industry got religion, and boy has the cattle handling changed. Let me tell you, you go out there now and they're handling the cattle nice," she writes. But after PETA filmed workers at Pilgrim's Pride, a major KFC supplier, smashing chickens against walls and, in Grandin's words, "using them as footballs," she condemned these actions as "cruel animal abuse."

Grandin also dismisses much animal experimentation as painful and "artificial." Animal studies should benefit animals, and be conducted on their own terms. "What are they doing? What are they feeling? What are they thinking? What are they saying? Who are they? And: what do we need to do to treat animals fairly, responsibly, and with kindness? Those are the real questions." Grandin's response to these questions is her life's work, including Animals in Translation, which significantly advances our knowledge of animals and, until universal vegetarianism prevails, will lead to improved standards for feedlots and slaughter

chico2
January 29th, 2005, 05:33 PM
Wow,Badger it seems to be an interesting book,but at $36 I'll ask the Library to order it :) Thank's!!

badger
January 30th, 2005, 11:22 AM
If you can find the article about Temple Grandin by Oliver Sacks, which was originally published in The New Yorker and is probably in one of his books by now, do read it. This woman's life story by itself is a triumph, apart from her many accomplishments. Incidentally, Sacks wrote the book on which the movie 'Awakenings' was made. In the movie, he is played by Robin Williams. A very very interesting guy in his own right.

Lucky Rescue
January 31st, 2005, 01:49 PM
36$ for this kind of info...

Grandin also wades fearlessly into the pit-bull nature-or-nurture controversy, and takes on Rottweillers as well. Rottweillers and pit bulls are, "on average, much more aggressive than other breeds," she concludes. Some are "good sweet dogs," but "don't let people tell you that Rottweiler or pit bull aggression is a 'myth.' It's not. .
PETA supporter, alright!

Mutts are your best bet, Grandin says, healthier and more emotionally stable, hence better behaved.

Really? And here I thought it was training and proper care that made dogs better behaved.

But after PETA filmed workers at Pilgrim's Pride, a major KFC supplier, smashing chickens against walls and, in Grandin's words, "using them as footballs," she condemned these actions as "cruel animal abuse."
Ya think? Can't fool her.

She recalls how, as a worshipful student interviewing B. F. Skinner, "the god of behaviorism . . . tried to touch my legs."
I don't know what to say to that....

Luvmypit
January 31st, 2005, 04:18 PM
Although I comend her for reaching goals and achieving such credentials I must say she uses basic knowledge and logic and passes it off as some expert knowledge. Is it just me?

chico2
January 31st, 2005, 04:33 PM
I agree,I did not like her comments on Pits and Rotties,she's been wrongly informed,but it seems to be an interesting book.I would never generalize any breed or any kind of people,dogs like people are all individuals.

mastifflover
January 31st, 2005, 05:20 PM
Although I comend her for reaching goals and achieving such credentials I must say she uses basic knowledge and logic and passes it off as some expert knowledge. Is it just me?
No it is not just you. I think she is like some of the experts at the hearings like the pet sitter. I agree Lucky it reeks of PETA

Lucky Rescue
January 31st, 2005, 06:02 PM
I must say she uses basic knowledge and logic and passes it off as some expert knowledge. Is it just me?
No, it's not just you. It's too bad she didn't STICK to basic knowledge and logic and leave out her bias and ingnorance.

After her hysterectomy, she mimed spayed dogs by crawling on the hospital floor and concluded that perambulating on all fours hurts less than walking upright.
Gee, this has pretty much been known since homo sapiens first stood up and walked on two legs.

What is truly upsetting is that many people are going to read her book and accept it as the gospel. :mad: