Sunday, August 12, 2012

Temple Grandin - Animals Make Us Human

It's funny how you never hear of something, and then you're hearing it all the time. Our book for #readpawty tomorrow night is 'Animals Make Us Human' by Temple Grandin. I'd never heard of her before. Mom's a member of the local PBS station. About a month ago, the PBS station sent out an invitation to the members to meet Temple Grandin in person. They were premiering a new documentary about her that was a partnership between the station and Colorado State University, which is where Ms. Grandin teaches. Then I started hearing the name coming up in conversations with people whose kids are autistic or have Asperger's Syndrome. Suddenly, Temple Grandin was everywhere! And with good reason.

'Animals Make Us Human' is about some of the animals we've domesticated either as pets or farm animals, what makes them tick, and how to give them all a better life. I'm not sure how the book's title relates to it's content, but that's not important. What is important is how Temple Grandin, her special view of the world, and her drive to make a difference has changed the face of the livestock industry in this country. In this book you get a glimpse of why this is so important.

Ms. Grandin explains how the different natural behaviors and characteristics of each animal can be used to give that animal a better life, treat it more humanely, and in the process, actually improve production in our nation's food supply. Or, if it's not a food animal, how to train and care for our companion animals in a way that works better, makes more sense, and is better for everyone involved (humans included).

Example - Mom never knew before that cats don't respond to avoidance training, only to positive reinforcement. Or that wolves (and probably dogs) don't live in packs, but in families. In that context, Ms. Grandin's observation that what we've traditionally thought of as the dominance structure in dogs and wolves 'packs' isn't so much about who's the boss but who are the mom and dad. Stuff like that makes a huge difference in how we train and relate to the animals in our lives.

Temple Grandin is an amazing woman. She's autistic, and grew up in a time when kids like that usually wound up in institutions. But because of the family she grew up in, she was nurtured, educated, and helped to be the person she is today. Her family focused on what she could do, not what she couldn't. And this world is a much better place because of it.

One facet of Ms. Grandin's autism is that she thinks in pictures more than in words. One day it occured to her that animals think the same way. Their world is very concrete - they only know what their senses tell them. Their world consists entirely of what they see, smell, taste, hear, and touch. They don't really have abstract thought. So she started looking at their world the way they do. The insights this gave her changed her world, and theirs, for the better. Ours too, really.

Ms. Grandin's written many books, both about livestock handling and behavior; and about autism. She's a strong advocate for early intervention and giving autistic children as much as they can handle in their lives so they can become self-sufficient. She travels the country and speaks tirelessly about the things she's passionate about.

The name of the documentary is 'The World Needs All Kinds of Minds'. It most certainly does. The world of animals would be a much poorer place without hers.

Please join us on twitter tomorrow night at 8PM ET for our discussion of 'Animals Make Us Human'. Use #readpawty to join the discussion.

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