thirteen things I learned from a Temple Grandin book


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?

15 Responses to “thirteen things I learned from a Temple Grandin book”

  1. Dustin Rhodes

    I am not even going to go there with what I really think about Temple Grandin and her “contribution” to animals (suffice to say: I don’t think she’s done anything except convince people that there are OK and not OK methods to murder nonhuman animals).

    Regardless of that, animal advocates, in my opinion, have no business championing anything she does. I, too, have read her work, and she veers off so easily into outer space with her easily drawn conclusions and assumptions. Why should I believe she “knows” what other animals feel because she’s autistic?

    I abhor the fact that so many in the animal rights [sic] movement champion her as an animal advocate. She freaking designs slaughter systems! Aaaarrrgggghhh.

  2. Edita

    As far as I’m concerned, all you need to really know about Temple Grandin is this: she named a cattle slaughter ramp she designed that leads the cows to their death, the “Stairway to Heaven.” If that little tidbit of information doesn’t give you an idea of how twisted this woman’s psyche is in regards to animals, I don’t know what will.
    Imagine human rights advocates praising someone who designed “humane torture” systems for humans. It’s hard to imagine because it would never happen. Why then, do animal advocates give praise and credit to those who make a living from killing non-humans and in enabling the delusions that there is such a thing as “humane slaughter?”

  3. lagusta

    Yeah, I totally agree with both of you. BUT the book had some interesting tidbits! I just think our arguments have more weight if we can give her credit for the (very little) she has to say that truly has the power to change people’s perception toward animals. As I said, I didn’t even read the bullshit chapters about animals people eat, because I was sure they would make me throw the book across the room.

    Her writing style seems to be a reflection of herself: juvenile and lacking an understanding of what death really is for animals. She seems to have these vaguely Christian ideas about noble deaths and dominion and shit that make me crazy—but I tried not to let that spoil me from taking what I could from the book, which has, as the tagline says, made me think about “creating the best life for animals.” And that was all I needed. It’s not that that’s what I think she does, or even what most of the book does. But it’s sure what I want to do.

  4. Dustin Rhodes

    The thing is, most people won’t have the sense to separate the fact from the fiction, the useful from the delusional.

    Again, I think animal advocates need to stay as far away from the Temple Grandin’s of the world as possible.

  5. lagusta

    Yes, that’s true.

    The “not everyone is as smart as you are, Lagusta,” point can never be made too often or forcibly: spot on, mate!

  6. Kevin Orie

    When can we plan to see you make an appearance on New Paltz News with Big Bill Mulcahy?

    • lagusta

      HA! I think it’s safe to say I would rather eat my hat. Or a hotdog. I try to make it a practice not to talk to people whose viewpoints I find sickening.

  7. skippy

    You do know that if the world became vegan there would not be enough food for them? Monsanto has 300 million acres of grain planted world wide. The grain seed is spliced with herbacide DNA. It is deadly for human consumption. That is the grain the animals eat. It is untested for human consumption. Or are the vegans the new lab rats? For Monsanto to change over to organic then the manpower to work the fields would be lacking. If the gerain is grown in 3rd world countries the shipping would be prohibited. Can any of you grow your own food. I can but the question is can you> Americans won’t work for min. wage. Thats the rest of the problem.

    • Dustin Rhodes

      I hope what I am saying is true, though heaven knows I can’t be for sure, but: I don’t think vegans, in general, are so delusional to think 1. that “the world” would become vegan overnight and 2. that there aren’t inherent problems with food production in general. The broader principles of veganism seek a world of peace, justice and respect towards all animals, human and non-human and the environment as a whole. In other words, it’s not simply about advocating for what a person should stick in her mouth. Veganism is a very broad lens with which to view the root cause of individual and planetary exploitation: human domination. It’s a gigantic, complicated issue, and I don’t know whether your point is to say that veganism isn’t possible or that the world in which we live is very complicated. If it’s the latter, I agree. But the higher aims of veganism should not be dismissed with a too-easy “there won’t be enough vegan food”–because that’s only part of a bigger perspective that, at its radical heart, seeks justice for all. I honestly think the ideals of veganism are the most comprehensive, thoughtful framework with which to try to live our lives. It doesn’t make vegans perfect (or even close), but taken seriously it’s a productive way to live that has the inherent power to effect enormous change that positively affects countless sentient beings—ourselves included.

      • lagusta

        Dustin, I am torn between loving you for responding so eloquently to this, and hating that reading a blog, something you probably do for fun as a break from your long work days, has become just like your regular work. Either way, thanks.

        I deeply believe in the Gandhian concept of ahimsa and nonviolence, but the next time I meet someone who tells me that they will not be vegan because if everyone was vegan there wouldn’t be enough food, I will punch them in the nutsack (because you know they are going to be a dude). I fucking swear. 1) the argument is baseless. 2) That’s like saying that you won’t stop killing people because you are concerned about overpopulation issues and if you stopped, there would just be too many people. You could also make the argument that raping women is an awesome idea because it usually scares them off sex for a while which leads to less people. Many ideas COULD be made. That doesn’t mean you should bring them over to my happy blog.

        See, Skippy, when you start your comment with “You do know…” it automatically raises everyone’s hackles, because that’s a sure sign you’re about to talk down to people. You might have better conversations if you learn to phrase things better. You might also not be such a dick. Just a thought.

        Sorry. I didn’t get enough sleep, and abject idiocy makes me crazy. I deeply bow to those calm enough to respond in a kind, thoughtful way to people. You’re living my perpetual New Year’s resolution!

        You know, Skippy-dude, I kinda agree with you on one point: Americans need a better work ethic. I could easily get roasted for this, but being a small business owner, I see this all the time (not with Veronica!!!!). We need to pay people more, for sure, (the issue isn’t that “Americans won’t work for minimum wage,” the issue is that we need to pay more for our food, like three times more and pay a real wage to the people who buy it) and people need to work. I know that sounds like I’m sort of blaming the victim here (not to mention betraying my anarchist soul), but anyone who’s ever had the horrible experience of being a boss knows exactly what I mean. As Dustin said, it’s a complex world out there.

    • lagusta

      This argument has been so throughly debunked that I won’t even get into it here. There are 20,000 websites on which you can educate yourself, and I really don’t care to be everyone’s mama and show them the fucking vegan light. Learn the facts, then come back. Or, a kinder commenter than me will school you, like Dustin just did.
      (This comment was supposed to come before the other one. Oh well.)

  8. laceyputnam

    While I also have mixed feelings about Temple Grandin and her occupation, I do believe that her contributions to the study and understanding of Autism have been extremely valuable. Her first book, Emergence, tells her story of growing up with an illness that no one understood or knew how to treat. Temple Grandin’s mother is a wonderful source of inspiration, as she continuously had to fight for her daughter to be treated fairly and to receive an education.
    So, without going on and on, I think that Temple Grandin’s personal story is quite incredible and useful for all of us to learn from. However, what she has chosen to do with her “gift” is somewhat disappointing.

  9. lagusta

    LACEY! Literally while you were writing that comment I was on Facebook planning on telling you how madly awesome you are. And now I see you are no longer on Facebook! I am proud and sad! So I will tell you in another internetty way instead: you are an awesome lady. And soon I’m going to email you and your glorious husband to see if you want to meet up in Woodstock (Bearsville) next Thursday.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: