Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals
I used to work at a college with a woman who had Asperger syndrome. Because we were both far more interested in animals than humans, we would convene every morning to discuss what sorts of dogs we’d seen during our respective commutes. “I saw a large German Shepard out for a walk,” she would tell me with as much as emotion as she ever showed. In response, I would tell her stories about my cat. Without fail, she would ask about him every single day.
After spending a year of my life comparing notes with my co-worker, it was reassuring to come across the work of Dr. Temple Grandin. Grandin, a doctor of animal sciences who has a type of high-functioning autism, is widely regarded for her work to improve humane treatment of animals, including livestock. A visual thinker, she often compares her own cognitive abilities to those of animals. She has said, for example, that animals are highly sensitive to sensory detail in the same ways that she is. While not a radical animal rights advocate, Grandin is the best mainstream ally that a soft sciences vegan like myself can find. In Animals Make Us Human, she explores the ways in which humans can create the best existence for the animals in their lives.
Grandin believes that we are responsible for animals. In order to best provide for them, she lays out practical guidelines about healthy environments and debunks myths about animals’ “natural states.” She tackles a broad range of topics, from providing positive reinforcement to cats to distinguishing between captive and companion animals. She questions Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan’s alpha dog theories while admitting that his work has created a functional—if unnatural—environment for rescue dogs. Grandin’s unique blend of scientific writing and layperson language makes her writing uniquely interesting and accessible. In one paragraph, she will explain different types of dog aggression. In the next, she will chastise a human’s behavior and write, “What that lady did was terrible.”
Grandin and I fundamentally disagree on ideas like “humane slaughter,” since I don’t believe any slaughter is humane—let alone necessary. We also disagree about zoos. While she feels that zoo enrichment programs have made conditions better for animals in captivity, I can’t go near park gates for fear I’ll either start hysterically sobbing, trying to free the animals, or both—the former having already happened far too many times in my life.
Grandin also acknowledges in the book’s Afterword that she continues to work in the industry instead of protesting from the outside because, in her lifetime, conditions have radically changed. She continues to eat meat based on the conditions she saw at the beginning of her career in the 1970s. I find this a bit frustrating since thirty years later, factory farming has exploded in the Americas, and the treatment of farm animals has become shockingly bad in many places. It’s never too late to reevaluate.
I respect Grandin’s work because as much as I’d prefer that factory farms be outlawed tomorrow, I believe her advocacy does improve life for many animals. Unlike some scientists in her field, she firmly believes that animals have emotions that must be respected. My own personal convictions aside, Grandin’s books about animal-human relationships are one step forward for people who never before considered animal welfare from a practical standpoint.