How can we give animals the best life--for them? What does an animal need to be happy
In her groundbreaking, best-selling book Animals in Translation
, Temple Grandin drew on her own experience with autism as well as her experience as an animal scientist to deliver extraordinary insights into how animals think, act, and feel. Now she builds on those insights to show us how to give our animals the best and happiest life--on their terms, not ours.
Knowing what causes animals physical pain is usually easy, but pinpointing emotional distress is much harder. Drawing on the latest research and her own work, Grandin identifies the core emotional needs of animals and then explains how to fulfill the specific needs of dogs and cats, horses, farm animals, zoo animals, and even wildlife. Whether it's how to make the healthiest environment for the dog you must leave alone most of the day, how to keep pigs from being bored, or how to know if the lion pacing in the zoo is miserable or just exercising, Grandin teaches us to challenge our assumptions about animal contentment and honor our bond with our fellow creatures. Animals Make Us Human
is the culmination of almost thirty years of research, experimentation, and experience. This is essential reading for anyone who's ever owned, cared for, or simply cared about an animal.
A Q&A with Temple Grandin, Author of Animals Make Us Human Q:
In Animals Make Us Human
, you discuss a wide range of animals, from dogs to pigs to tigers. Which animals do you enjoy studying and working with the most? A:
I've worked with cattle the most, so I really enjoy cattle. I always liked to sit in the pen and let the cattle come around me and lick me--they're really peaceful animals when they're not afraid. But the thing about cattle is they're a prey-species animal and they get scared really easily--and I can relate to that because as a person with autism, fear is my main emotion. So I can relate to how cattle are always hypervigilant, looking for rapid movements, looking for little signs of things that might be danger. Q:
How has autism helped you in your work with animals? A:
I'm a total visual thinker. And you've got to think about it: animals don't think in language. If you want to understand animals, you must get away from language. Animals are sensory-based thinkers; they think in pictures, they think in sounds, they think in touches. There's no other way that their brains can store those memories. Q:
How has your work affected the treatment of animals? A:
I've been working on improving the treatment of cattle for years. When I started out in the seventies, people were incredibly rough and abusive with cattle. The thing that kept me going was that there were some really nice people who handled their cattle well, and their cattle had a great life, and so I could see that it was possible to handle animals right. And today many more people are now involved in teaching low-stress stockmanship and good cattle handling. When I started in the early seventies, I was a pioneer in the U.S. on this; nobody else was working on these things. Q:
How will this book be useful to people working with cats and dogs in animal shelters? A:
People often don't recognize emotions in these animals. I went to a very nice animal shelter recently that had group housing for cats that had tree-like things with platforms and cubbyholes for the cats to get in, and a very astute worker there noticed that you can have a situation where a cat seems very calm in a shelter, but he's not really sleeping, he's constantly keeping an eye out for another cat. And people need to watch for that kind of situation, because even though it looks peaceful, that one particular cat that never sleeps is going to be stressed out.
Also at this shelter, I was very pleased that the amount of dog barking was way less, and I think one of the reasons for this is that every day, every dog is taken out for an hour of quality time, playing and being walked and interacting with a person. That's going to help lower the stress. Dogs need to be taken out every day for quality interaction with a person, exercise, and fun play. Q:
What are the things you really like about creating a book like Animals Make Us Human
I really enjoyed getting into all the neuroscience information. Another thing I talked about in the book are the problems with not having enough people working out in the field to implement things. We've got policymakers who never work out in the field, and some of the policies can backfire. We need to have more people working in the field. In the wildlife chapter, I talk about who's going to be the next Jane Goodall--we need a lot more of that kind of on-the-ground work. Q:
You mention Dr. Nicholas Dodman and some other people in your field. Has anyone in particular been a great inspiration for you? A:
One of my big inspirations when I was starting out was a scientist named Ron Kilgore, who studied sheep handling and sheep behavior. At the same time that I was working on cattle handling in the U.S. in the early seventies, Ron Kilgore was doing the same sorts of things in New Zealand. I discovered one of his papers early on, and that really was an inspiration. Q:
What do you think of the more extreme animal activists? A:
Violence I'm totally against--that's very counterproductive. All that does is make the animal industry go and get more lawyers and more security systems. Demonstrations--sometimes there may be a place for that. In some situations we might have philosophical differences. I eat meat. I get hypoglycemic if I don't eat animal protein. But I feel very strongly that we've got to give the animals a decent life. A woman working at Niman Ranch said that we've got to give animals "a life worth living." These cattle can have a decent life: the cows and the bulls, out on a ranch eating grass. The calves spend half their lives in a feed yard, but they're still outside. Another way I look at it is, those cattle would have never been born, would have never existed, but now that we've made them exist, we've got to give them a decent life. Q:
If you could give your book to one person or one group of people so that they could learn more about animal care, who would that be? A:
I think any kind of person who works with animals, whether it's a pet owner, a cat owner, people who work with horses, people who work on farms--anyone who works with animals on a daily basis is going to like Animals Make Us Human
, and they're also going to like Animals in Translation
Proposition 2 in California just passed. Its aim is to reduce the inhumane confinement of farm animals by giving them enough room to stand up, turn around, and stretch. What do you think of this, and what do you think the real effects will be? A:
Veal stalls and sow stalls we need to get rid of, plain and simple. Putting a sow in a box where she can't turn around for most of her life, that's absolutely not acceptable. Two-thirds of the public have problems with it. With hens and chickens, that's a more complicated issue. It's so much more expensive to put them in systems that are cage-free, and what I'm worried about is the egg industry migrating to Mexico and being a real mess, where we have no controls at all. What people don't realize is that half of the egg industry is liquid egg, which can be easily shipped in those stainless-steel tanks. It's the eggs that go into bread, the eggs that restaurants use...And I'm concerned that that might migrate to Mexico.
There needs to be a lot more thought going into how we're going to implement things. What's happening in a lot of fields now--with any issue, not just animal issues--is we're getting more and more policymakers totally separated from the reality of what's happening on the ground, where ideology takes over from practicality. Q:
What are your future plans relating to animal advocacy? What is the next issue that you would like to tackle? A:
I'm an implementer. Somebody has to work on implementing things. I want to continue working with people on practical guidelines that will result in improvements. I spend a great deal of time working with large meat buyers, because economic forces can often bring about great change. One of the things that should be a major criterion in judging welfare is when there are too many lame animals. And lameness is something I can measure. I want things I can measure. Too often we've got our best and brightest going into policy, and they haven't done anything practical. All I can say is, whatever field you're in, whether it is animals or something else, you need to get out in the field and find out what's going on in the trenches, so that you don't make policies that might have unintended, bad consequences. Get away from the lobbyists, get away from all that, get out and visit farms, visit ranchers, because with a lot of issues, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
(Photo © Joel Benjamin)