Animals make us human

Grandin - Animals make us humanPUBLISHING YEAR: 2009

SUMMARY: A real-life-oriented review of the contemporary body of knowledge into animal welfare and cognition, with chapters on dogs, cats, zoo animals and cows among others.

AUDIENCE: Very accessible style appropriate for non-specialists as well as pros. Rigorously researched, originally approached and compellingly simplified. That perfect triangle that will make academics, laymen AND trainers love it.

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The author: Temple Grandin is something of a star in the animal welfare science scene. She has designed revolutionary systems for the meat industry; systems that try to take away unnecessary suffering. She is also a self-proclaimed poster child for high functioning autists but cuts a more controversial figure there.

Style and contents: The book was co-authored with Catherine Johnson, which infused it with a breezy, accessible, pleasant tone. The Grandin-Johnson tandem produced a true accuracy-meets-style gem. A real pleasure to read with compelling snippets, arresting thoughts and ‘why it matters’ examples. So if the review below makes it sound too high brow, please don’t be intimidated. I just don’t have her talent for science popularization and I swear to you it was written for the layman – and beautifully so at that.

Each chapter reviews the contemporary body of knowledge on one topic, from the neuroscience of animal emotions in general to the training of zoo animals for veterinary handling (via pets and farm animals, for good measure).

Her popularization of the neuroscience is a masterpiece of science communication. She derives her model from Jaak Panksepp’s seminal work on the topic.  She wound the neuroscience throughout the book, discussing the seeking, rage and fear neuronal circuits in each chapter.

The chapters about intensively farmed animals will be shocking to people unfamiliar with animal welfare science, but they are presented in good taste – without undue sensationalism. I immensely respect her honesty and pragmatism with regards to humans’ use of animals. She doesn’t believe humans will wean themselves off, nor does she believe it to be inherently immoral. But she does believe it has to be done with respect and while minimizing suffering. A refreshing change from the more common extreme and simplistic views of animal welfare.

As a dog specialist, I was surprised to have gained so much from her chapter on dogs. After all, this book was written for the layman. Her points were original, rigorously steeped in research and, somewhat typically for her, focused on real-life applications rather than lofty theory. I was also impressed with her pragmatic approach of controversial subjects such as the pack theory.

I have also gained a lot from her chapter on neuroscience. Finishing reading Panksepp’s seminal book is turning out to be one of my never-ending reading projects, so she provided me with a welcome (temporary) shortcut to the big themes.

The chapters on zoo and farm animal welfare discussed contemporary topics in welfare science honestly. I love the objective yet critical way in which she views the whole “zoos for conservation” message, for example.

Possible improvements: My only gripe with the book is her self-appointed role as autism ambassadress. The sweeping generalizations she makes about others on the spectrum got extremely irritating – and borderline insulting – at times. Her all-too media-savvy representation of autism occasionally smacked of opportunism. That threw a shadow on an otherwise incredibly honest, condensed and insightful piece of work.

The verdict: I would absolutely recommend it to anyone involved in animals either professionally, or by mere virtue of living with them. A book that even animal welfare scientists will enjoy for its refreshing angles and compelling examples.

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Author: Grandin Temple
Genre: pop science
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2 Trackbacks

  • […] Animals make us human (Temple Grandin): A classic review of animal cognition. […]

  • […] Do’s: We noticed that handlers themselves often confused socialisation with over-stimulation. So we transformed our curriculum to make this point central to every lesson. For each exercise, we show the handlers when it’s time to take a break and we break down each introduction into gradual steps. OhMyDog students come out of their puppy courses with the socialisation mantra tattooed in their heart: ‘the pup notices but does not mind‘ (thank you for the great one-liner, Temple Grandin). […]

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