Animals Make Us Human

Creating the Best Life for Animals
by Temple Grandin
with Catherine Johnson

Very interesting book about the welfare of animals, based on their core emotional needs. Temple Grandin is well-known for her design work, making livestock handling facilities easier for animals to navigate calmly. A lot of the recommendations in this book was stuff I\’d heard before- about dogs being unhappy left home alone all day, or horses needing company in the field, and so on. What\’s different is the way Grandin interprets the animals\’ needs. Her take on it is that all animals share a core set of emotions- defined as play, \’seeking\’ (engaging in curiosity or pursuing a goal), fear, rage (usually beginning as frustration), and panic. These things can be pinpointed in regions of the brain, and she explains how most undesirable behavior stems from these emotions being activated or not.

First she talks about livestock animals that live in very confined conditions- cattle, pigs and chickens. She describes how each of the emotions are affected- for example pigs need opportunities to \’seek\’ (have straw to root around in) and chickens need to feel safe so they aren\’t constantly in fear- and tells specifically how she has seen these needs neglected or met in facilities she visits. She is open about her own research with pigs and how the results weren\’t at all what she expected, but taught her something. She tells how conditions in the industries have changed over the decades of her career- some things are worse, but surprisingly a lot of things have improved, especially since audits haven been instigated (with measurable steps).

The next section of the book is about domestic animals that live as pets- dogs and cats mainly- and whether or not they have a good quality of life living in people\’s homes. I was actually taken aback that her conclusion on dogs was they used to have better quality of life when they were commonly allowed to roam neighborhoods (which she recalls from her childhood). She points out that keeping dogs shut up alone in houses all day frustrates them and causes separation anxiety, and when they are out but always on a leash, fights between dogs are far more likely. Interestingly, she goes back and forth about whether or not dogs need to live in a pack hierarchy system like wolves- human owners making themselves the leader. She claims this idea of wolves living in strict hierarchy is wrong, that usually they live in families and your dog needs you to be a parent, not a pack leader, but dogs aren\’t really the same as wolves anyway. Also that wolves avoid fights because they have a repertoire of submissive behaviors to communicate to each other with, and dogs appear to have lost this via breeding- I had never heard this theory before but she explains how some researchers actually studied the number of submissive behaviors different breeds of dogs typically use, and some of them were appalling low in number, which led to more fights because they can\’t diffuse the tension properly.

Anyway. The final part, about animals living in zoos, was even more intriguing. Grandin was asked by a number of zoos to help them manage their animals\’ welfare- either recommending how to make life better for the animals or helping them train animals to accept medical procedures. This last was the best reading in the book for me. Most prey species, the book states, are very easily startled into panic and flight- if they are suddenly frightened in an enclosed setting, they can literally kill themselves frantically trying to escape the situation. Training consisted of using clickers to anticipate a reward, and gradually habituating the animals to novel objects or situations, until they had skittish antelope and similar animals very calmly walking up to zoo vets to have blood drawn or be given a vaccination! It\’s thrilling to read about that kind of work making strides with animal welfare. She also discusses other types of animals in captivity- how much easier it is to keep a group of monkeys happy than say, an elephant which can\’t live in a large family (no space) and basically she is against keeping large predators in captivity, because they can never engage in the roaming and hunting behaviors that keep them mentally well-fit and content.

I have paraphrased a lot here. There is so much more detail and the very specific viewpoint Grandin has on animal emotions -how that affects their behavior, and how we need to understand it to improve their welfare in captive situations- was one I had never quite come across before. It made all of this an engaging read, especially beneficial to anyone interested in animals sciences I think.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 4/5             342 pages, 2009

One Response

  1. If you read the book, must keep in mind the author is autistic. The writing style is simplistic and often repetitive, I didn't mind but others may.

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