By Chet Yarbrough
By Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson
Narrated by Andrea Gallo
Claire Danes’ performance in the 2010 film about Temple Grandin raises human consciousness about animals.
Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. With the help of her parents and teachers, Grandin overcame communication difficulties created by autism. After receiving masters and doctoral degrees in animal science, Grandin has worked as a consultant to large slaughter houses and zoos to improve the quality of life for soon-to-be slaughtered cattle and imprisoned wildlife.
As an educator, biologist, and writer, Grandin acknowledges the cycle of life but argues that humans do not have to be cruel when raising livestock, slaughtering animals, or confining animal’ species in restricted environments. Grandin proposes improvements in animal husbandry; particularly for animals grown to be slaughtered but also animals confined to zoos and nature preserves.
Grandin’s co-author, Catherine Johnson is a science writer, and teacher specializing in neuropsychiatry and the brain. Johnson co-wrote two books with Grandin and, with the help of her husband, raises two boys who have autism.
“Animals Make Us Human” offers insight to the care of dogs, cats, farm, and zoo animals. Possibly because of experience as an autistic child, Grandin seeks to understand unexpressed feelings in animals that is often missed, or misunderstood, by humans. Grandin observes behavior to gain understanding of what activities make animals happy or miserable. She experiments with environments to elicit animal happiness, contentment or, at least, freedom from fear, panics, or rage.
The authors argue that animals have feelings and emotional needs that can be positively attended to by human caregivers. As an example, Grandin analyzes animal behavior to lessen fear when medical examinations or injections are required. She recounts panic feelings of wild animals before injection and either removes frightening accoutrements used in the process of animal treatment or slowly trains the animal to get used to required-treatment apparatus. By focusing on the things that frighten the subject animal, Grandin eliminates the need to tranquillize before medical treatment. She mitigates the fear, panic, and rage felt by wild and domesticated animals. As Grandin and Johnson note, tranquillization distorts treatment effectiveness and, at times, kills the animal.
From personal experience, when the family dog is subcutaneously injected with prescribed medication, rapid jabbing, which lessens pain for adults, frightens a dog. A dog is less frightened or panicked by a slow insertion of a needle rather than a rapid motion.
Grandin is also a proponent of using drugs to reduce panic, fear, rage, or depression in animals. This is an interesting idea but there are unintended consequences; just as there are with humans. One presumes, diagnosis is more difficult because of the quality of communication between animal and human. Also, there is the potential for drug side effects. (Without the insight of a veterinarian with Grandin’s diagnostic expertise, animal lovers should be wary.)
“Animals Make Us Human” is most interesting to dog and cat lovers because of the insight Grandin offers about what pleases dogs and cats and how those pleasures can be used to reinforce positive behavior. It is undoubtedly, equally interesting to zoo keepers and herders but there are many more dog and cat owners than zoo keepers and herders.
Grandin and Johnson’s fundamental insight is that humans need to observe their animals to understand what they like, what they fear, what causes panic and rage, and how humans can make them happy within the circumstances of their lives.