Temple Grandin is a world renowned animal behaviorist and an accomplished and well-known adult with autism. Her condition coupled with her scientific expertise has given her profound insight into animal behavior.
In her book Animals in Translation, Grandin gave us insights into how animals view the world. In her no less brilliant follow-up, Animals Make Us Human, the author explains how we can create the best life for animals in our care.
Readers who have never read Grandin’s work might be put off by the scientific themes, but with the help of co-author Catherine Johnson, the books are enlightening, conversational, and wholly remarkable.
Animals Make Us Human starts out with a discussion about the basic emotional needs of animals and examines how animals respond to the world around them. Grandin maintains that the best life for animals in any environment, is one in which their seeking impulse is nurtured and their fear and rage impulses are minimized.
Grandin then sets out to explain how humans can provide the most enriching environment for the animals in their lives, whether they are household pets, livestock, wildlife or zoo animals. In each chapter she discusses a type of animal, what sorts of activities trigger the animal’s “seeking” and “play” impulses, and what sorts of activities trigger the “fear” or “rage” impulses. She gives practical pointers for how to provide the best life for your animal.
Some readers may be surprised to learn that a fenced yard and basic responsible pet care is not enough to ensure a dog’s well-being, but that social interaction and novelty build the groundwork for a happy, well-adjusted pet.
Most readers will find the first few chapters the most helpful, as they deal with dogs, cats and horses. Subsequent chapters about the handling of livestock, at times paint an ugly picture. In fact, it would not come as a surprise if many readers found themselves considering veganism by the time they’ve read the book halfway.
When Grandin delves into the subject of zoo animals, Cleveland readers may be reminded of the old style of the Cleveland MetroPark Zoo, and may gain new insight as to what changes enacted there have been the most beneficial to the animals, and which changes have done little to improve the animals’ quality of life.
Grandin’s opinions may not always be popular, but they are always based on scientific research. During her discussion of dogs, she cites how dogs descend from families of wolves, not packs, and that domestic dogs are looking for a parent, not an alpha. This opinion is in direct contrast to the training methods of Cesar Millan. Grandin never denounces Millan’s work, but suggests that his tactics are more suited for multi-dog, rather than single dog households. She also gives credence to Ted Kerasote’s experiences in Merle’s Door, agreeing that Merle had lived the best kind of life for a dog, and states that the restrictions that communities have put on roaming dogs has in fact decreased their quality of life.
Grandin explains how to recognize an animal’s emotional state, and gives advice on how to stimulate curiosity while avoiding fear. She concludes by stating that the most important thing for an animal is its quality of life; “requiring health, freedom from pain and negative emotions, and lots of activities that stimulate seeking and play”. She maintains that animals have a rich emotional life, and that people who deny that are letting their own emotions get in the way of logic.