Animal rights people (and I firmly plant myself in that camp) generally are not fans of Temple Grandin.
Here are some bulleted points about her, courtesy of Wikipedia and her own site, just so you know who we’re talking about and what she’s all about (also, here is a good bio that discusses the connection she feels between her autism and life’s work of creating humane deaths for animals.):
- “Dr. Temple Grandin is a designer of livestock handling facilities and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.”
- “I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.”
- “Grandin is considered a philosophical leader of both the animal welfare and autism advocacy movements. Both movements commonly cite her work regarding animal welfare, neurology, and philosophy. She knows all too well the anxiety of feeling threatened by everything in her surroundings, and of being dismissed and feared, which motivates her in her quest to promote humane livestock handling processes. … In 2004 she won a “Proggy” award, in the “visionary” category, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.” (W.O.W. Peta now gives out awards to people who help kill animals!)
- “Some philosophers think animals are not conscious because they do not have language. I am autistic and I think in pictures. If the philosophers are correct, I would have to conclude that I am not conscious…Consciousness developed in the phylogenetically old parts of the brain so it is likely that even simple animals [??] have a simple consciousness. Conscious thinking in mammals and birds enable flexible problem solving behavior in a novel environment. Mammals and birds are also socially conscious. Consciousness may be a matter of degree as brain complexity increases.”
So there we go.
I’m an abolitionist, and don’t see much space for people rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and all that, so her work didn’t exactly float my boat. But Selma (who recommended the book to me) and I had a good talk about it, and in the end we came to the same conclusion: the whole world is not going to become vegetarian in our lifetimes, and therefore, though we don’t want to admit it, her work is incredibly useful. In truth, Temple Grandin has done to alleviate animal cruelty than I have done, for sure. But (this is the lesson of Temple Grandin + animal rights: there is always a “but”): I can’t imagine what she could have accomplished if she shifted her views just a bit to the vegan side of things, and that thought depresses the hell out of me. She’s clearly a powerhouse, and I wish she was more on my side.
All this is fairly tangential to the book I just finished, though: Animals Make Us Human. As Amazon describes it, “Picking up where Animals in Translation left off, Grandin provides pet owners, farmers, livestock managers, and zoo keepers with concrete suggestions for improving the lives of the animals in their care.”
Hrumph, “pet owners.” Someday I guess we should talk about that on the blog, though Dustin’s interview touched on it a little. I try to provide my cats with some semblance of a real cat life, and I feel like the book gave me more tools to do so. In truth, I deeply liked the book, and it taught me a lot. However, I gave the chapters on cows, pigs, chickens, and zoos only the barest skim because I didn’t want them to make me angry. How wonderful to be an adult and not to feel pressure to read an entire book!
Here are just a few of the many interesting points she makes, which I will copy here in the hopes of “reaching across the aisle” and admitting that even those who are not as awesomely hardcore as me about animal rights still make valid and fascinating points:
- Yet another reminder of why I don’t have a dog, p. 32: “The reason I think the most natural existence for a dog is a fence-free, mostly outdoor life with a human owner [ugg] is that this is probably the way dogs lived with people a hundred thousand years ago when wolves first evolved into dogs…”
- p. 33: “What dogs probably need isn’t a substitute pack leader but a substitute parent. I say that because genetically dogs are juvenile wolves, and young wolves live with their parents and siblings.”
- p. 41: Passage about why dogs need other dogs. Reminder #48577367 of why I don’t have a dog.
- p. 41: “This is a huge change in the lives of dogs from just twenty or thirty years ago: dogs aren’t free anymore. I don’t think anyone knows what the effect has been. I believe that if you did a…study of dog-directed aggression, you would find there’s more of it today than there was when I grew up….”
- P. 42: “It’s almost as if dogs have become captive animals instead of companion animals, and the house or fenced yard has become like a really fancy zoo enclosure. So, when you buy a dog today, you have to think about how to make up for the fact that he’s not going to live the life that comes naturally to him.”
- p. 55: She talks about full-body restraint (“putting an animal inside a box with its head sticking out of a hole in the front, and filling the box with oats so that the animal’s entire body up to the neck is encased in grain and it can’t move.”), and how it makes dogs, cows, and many other animals (including herself) much calmer—one of the things she is famous for is inventing a “squeeze-box” she can go into when she is stressed out. Pretty fascinating stuff. I’d like a squeeze box in my kitchen please!
- On to cats: p. 73: “Domestic cats aren’t totally domesticated the way dogs and horses are…[one reason] people see cats as being more solitary than they are is that cats have less in common with people as a species than either dogs or wolves do, regardless of domestication…”
- Adopt a black cat! p. 77: “Sarah Hartwell, a shelter worker in England, calls black cats “laid-back blacks’ and tortoiseshell cats ‘naughty torties.’ That description is supported by a handful of studies showing a relationship between fur color and behavior….Black cats are more social overall, whether it’s with other cats or with humans.” (In my house this is completely untrue—my black cat Sula is completely antisocial, except with Jacob & I, and is the least laid-back cat I’ve ever seen. Our tortie, Cleo, is all sweetness and light…but also fairly anti-social most times.) There is another reason you should adopt a black cat and dog, too: Black Dog Syndrome. (I feel weird quoting passages where she relies on animal studies that were most likely done in laboratories under horrible conditions that my ethical beliefs preclude me from believing are morally acceptable. It was a constant problem as I read the book.)
- p. 97: an interesting explanation of why cats get stuck in trees that I am too lazy to type out (it involves the way their claws are shaped), and an explanation of why cats’ obsessive behavior helps them learn.
- And now onto the really controversal stuff: p. 255: “In the 1980s, the Humane Society of the US donated money to fund the development of my center-track restrainer system for meat plants [meat plants??? Oh, honey.] They would never do that today. Few animal welfare groups would fund something to help reform and improve the livestock industry. As people have become more abstractified [?] they’ve become more radical, and today the relationship between animal advocacy groups and the livestock industry is totally adversarial.” Of course, I disagree with her, but I also worked hard to listen to her interesting points and perspective. I don’t see why there can’t be space for everyone: animal advocacy and animal rights groups of varying shades of absolutism on one side, and the “livestock industry” on the other. I don’t choose to work with animal welfare groups and with people working to make animal slaughter less stressful, but I wish those people well, just as I would hope that they wish me—someone working to end animal consumption—well.
- That said, here’s the absolute stupidest quote in the book: p. 297: “I vividly remember the day after I had installed the first center-track conveyor restrainer in a plant in Nebraska, when I stood on an overhead catwalk, overlooking vast herds of cattle below me. All these animals were going to their death in a system I had designed. I started to cry and then a flash of insight came into my mind. None of the cattle that were at this slaughter plant would have been born if people had not bred and raised them. They would never have lived at all.” WTF!!!!!!! Talk about pro-life! There it is, to a completely idiotic degree. That’s some deep-down bible-belt idiocy showing there, if you ask me. It’s like those people who say that if we didn’t eat animals cows would stampede us or something.
- Back to dogs: p. 300: “The more I observe and learn about how dogs are kept today, I am more convinced that many cattle have better lives than some of the pampered pets. Too many dogs are alone all day with no human or dog companions. Recently I walked own a resiential street in a neighborhood close to my home, and I was appalled to hear three different dogs barking or whining in three different houses. Separation anxiety is a major problem for many different dogs. One of the worst cases of separation anxiety was a dog who broke off his teeth trying to escape from a yard where he was alone all day. Just as this book was going to press, I visited Uruguay in South America. Pet dogs with collars were running all around town with no leashes. Nobody was concerned about dog bites because the dogs were all well-socialized.”
- “Some people think death is the most terrible thing that can happen to an animal. Dogs that run loose are often killed by cats, but their social life is probably better. Dogs that live a more confined existence are less likely to get killed, but their quality of life may be poorer unless their owners spend a lot of time playing and interacting with them.”
Food for thought, no?