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Scientist Temple Grandin explains animals’ emotions in Animals Make Us Human’ book review

Tricia Springstubb, The Plain Dealer, January 11, 2021

At last! We’ve installed a 100-percent squirrel- proof bird feeder. I’m gloating over the desperation of the fat-tailed rodent who normally hoovers up the seed and, if I’m not quick enough on the refill, sets to gnawing the back door. He is relentless in his dangling upside down, flattening himself against the lid and rising up on his hind legs, beating his chest. Foiled!

And then I begin to read Temple Grandin’s “Animals Make Us Human.”

Within an hour, I’m out there scattering seed on the ground, apologizing to him.

Don’t let the book’s snuggly title fool you. Grandin is primarily a scientist, and no Marley romps through these pages. She wrote the 2004 best seller “Animals in Translation,” works as a professor at Colorado State University and was diagnosed with autism as a preschooler.

By her own description, she thinks in pictures rather than words, a trait that allows her to keenly empathize with animals. For 30 years, Grandin has championed improved treatment, most notably in the slaughtering of livestock. More than half of North America’s cattle are handled in systems she designed.

Animal welfare is the heart of her new work, but this time she goes beyond physical well-being to ask what makes an animal happy. Seeking, rage, fear and panic — these, she writes, are the “blue ribbon” emotions driving most behaviors. (Lust, the desire to nurture and play also are noted, though classified under seeking).

Grandin asserts that pet owners, chicken farmers, ranchers and zookeepers have a responsibility to provide as much stimulation and as little stress as possible. Animal by animal, she tells us how to do it.

Recent studies of wolves, dogs’ closest relatives, indicate they don’t actually live in large, alpha-led packs but in nuclear families. Grandin challenges the convention that having a well-behaved dog requires a human established as leader of the pack.

What the pup really needs is a substitute parent. Be in charge, she counsels, teach good manners and don’t spoil, but remember — a dog is a kid who’s never going to grow up. (All domestic animals have smaller brains than their wild ancestors.)

Unlike dogs, cats easily can go feral and survive, and are capable of what Grandin gently terms “more complicated” emotions than the more domesticated dog. She is a proponent of the “clicker system,” in which an animal is trained to associate the sound of a hand-held clicker with a treat.

Remarkably, cats can be trained to navigate obstacle courses, and what’s more, Grandin says, they’ll be happier for it. Turning on a pet’s “seeking system” is as big of a responsibility as providing food and water.

In her straightforward style, Grandin discusses the fearfulness of horses and the brilliance of pigs. She dwells more on the physical than emotional plights of livestock, including chickens, unquestionably at the bottom of the pecking order. The corporate folk at McDonald’s and Burger King come off well for their insistence on auditing animal welfare at the farms and processing plants selling them meat.

Grandin mixes in some wonderful anecdotes — her account of a cat so sociable it liked to climb in the bathtub with its owner is straight out of James Herriot. But, ever the pragmatist, she emphasizes how “getting the animal’s emotions right” benefits us, too. Chickens lay better, dogs refrain from tearing up cushions, and the jobs of livestock handlers become less dangerous and more satisfying. In a thoughtful afterword, she explains why she works for reform of the meat industry, rather than becoming an activist against it.

Studies of zoo animals have found that animals prefer to work for their food rather than have it handed to them. The seeking emotion is so strong, Grandin says, that “wild animals don’t want a free lunch.”

My backyard squirrel has yet to read those studies. Time to ease his rage.

Posted by Admin on July 19th, 2009 :: Filed under Beef cattle, Education and public awareness, Meat/slaughter plants
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