Animals Make us Human
by Temple Grandin
I'm writing this review more than a little distracted by the tornado disasters of the past 48 hours (so forgive me if this isn't quite up to snuff). My heart goes to all those who have suffered loss and devastation that I cannot even imagine.
This book is for anybody who cares to know more about animals and what motivates them as well as what is required to give them a good quality of life.
Temple Grandin is one of the foremost experts on animal behavior. Her specialty is the care of food animals and she has spent decades advocating for more humane treatment of them. Her belief, which has been proven over and over, is that food animals can have a good quality of life and die a peaceful and stress free death when they make their trip to the slaughterhouse.
It isn't a topic most people want to consider. Sure, that bacon tastes great, but thinking too much that there is a sentient being behind that cut of meat is enough to put one off their food.
But it's an important thing to consider. If you are going to eat meat, eggs, dairy, don't turn a blind eye to the fact that those products all come from animals. Many of whom, even today, suffer horrible conditions to provide your meals.
That's kind of grim stuff. But the book is anything but grim. It is a delightful look into the lives of animals and what each of us can do to improve those lives.
The book is divided into chapters covering dogs, cats, cows, pigs, poultry, wildlife, and zoo animals. In each chapter, Ms. Grandin discusses what makes that particular species tick and what can be done to give them happy, fulfilling lives.
The first chapter is about dogs and being a dog owner and lover, I swallowed every word. Ms. Grandin introduces fundamental behaviors of dominance and playfulness and how dogs do or do not demonstrate those behaviors. She talks about how dogs can suffer lack of proper education in how to be a dog at a young age and ultimately have difficulty interacting with other dogs. She contrasts dogs to wolves as well as the differences among breeds.
I loved her descriptions of labs as being either "wheelchair" dogs who are "content to lie around all day... and are so calm they make excellent service dogs" vs. "hyper" labs who "[are] innately cheerful and energetic.... but don't have great emotional restraint or impulse control." I'd say my Dexter tends towards the wheelchair type whereas my granddog, Oliver, is more of the hyper type.
Looking back at my mastiff, Mango, I can readily see how he suffered some arrested emotional development and many of his inappropriate behaviors were the result of an adult dog operating with a puppy brain.
The main thing I was reminded of is that dogs like to learn new stuff and the process of learning is as important as the goal because it stimulates the "seeking" pleasure center of their brain. Subsequently, I have renewed energy around spending a few minutes a day (at least) working on tricks with Dexter.
The chapter on cats was sometimes rather amusing and certainly enlightening. Apparently "inappropriate" elimination is quite common with cats and Ms. Grandin explains many of the possible causes (as well as the solutions). She also notes that black cats tend to be friendlier than other cats (with both other cats and humans).
I could go on and on. I learned so much from this book and it is very well written and not burdened with a lot of technical details (but plenty of notes for those interested in further references). The chapters are divided into short sections so it is easy to pick up and put down without being overwhelmed by all the information.
I heartily recommend this book to anybody (whether you own an animal or not). At the end, it lives up to its title, because thinking about the feelings of other beings does make us more human.