Thursday, February 26, 2009

Animals Make Us Human

I finally finished reading Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin. As in her previous books, Temple Grandin explains how her high functioning autism enables her to understand the animal's perspective because she and the animals are strong in visualizing and seeing in pictures. She also goes into detail about how the animal behaviors reflect needs to seek or are a response to rage, fear, panic, lust, a need to care or play.
I have to admit that I stopped reading Animals in Translation when I got to the part about how one removes semen from an animal in order to do artificial insemination. However, I read Animals Make Us Human straight through and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Each chapter covers the various animals: dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs and chickens and poultry so readers can go straight to the chapter that covers an animal of interest. But the sections on wildlife and zoos made me think about how the answers to improving the lot of animals and the planet are not so black and white. For example, I don't eat red meat for several reasons, but mainly because I would rather see land grow grains that can feed many more people on the planet than a cow can. But it is essential to have cows out there grazing and pooping or the vulnerable brittle land (like in Arizona) will convert into desert.

According to Dr. Grandin some of my least favorite fast food businesses (i.e. McDonald's) have been in the forefront in making sure that the animals they use have living conditions that meet certain criteria. The chapter on chickens and poultry came the closest to grossing me out with descriptions of the conditions (space so small they sleep on top of one another). I also learned where the term "bully" came from and won't share that piece of grotesque imagery.

As an occupational therapist, my favorite parts naturally center around how to provide the sensory stimulation that allows animals to occupy their minds while in captivity. For example, zoos set up devices so that animals had to work for their food by pushing or turning handles and pigs thrived when given rubber hoses and other objects to shred. Behaviorists as well, will appreciate the positive reinforcement techniques Dr. Grandin explains to be much more affective than any form of negative reinforcement or punishment.

There's more fascinating pieces of information about animals than I can share right now. So go on and read the book!

Barbara Smith, M.S., OTR/L author of, The Recycling Occupational Therapist

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