Book of the week
Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals
by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson
(Houghton Mifflin, 352 pages, $26)
Cattle have happier lives than many of the most pampered dogs in America, says animal behavior specialist Temple Grandin. Cattle aren’t worried that their handlers may slaughter them before they reach a ripe old age. Dogs, on the other hand, become unsettled if they’re simply left alone too often. Needs vary among species, Grandin writes, but when interpreting the needs of any animal, it helps to consider that its behavior is governed by one positive impulse and three negative emotions. All animals are wired to avoid pain, fear, and panic, Grandin says. They derive satisfaction from the mere act of seeking a goal.
Such abstract rules serve as a framework for Grandin’s more interesting observations about cats, dogs, cows, and zoo animals, said Dwight Garner in The New York Times. Like Animals in Translation, her best-selling first book on beast-think, this volume is loaded with small revelations. Grandin is, famously, a high-functioning autistic who thinks in pictures rather than language. She has designed stress-free slaughter systems that are now used to process about half of all cattle in the U.S. and Canada. Though her writing is “ungainly in the best possible way—blunt, sweet, off-kilter, and often quite funny”—her insights are invaluable. “It never would have occurred to me,” said Lev Grossman in Time, “that one reason cats’ emotions are so hard to read is that they have no eyebrows.”
You may also be surprised to learn that black cats tend to be mellower than cats of other colors, said Rebecca Jones in the Denver Rocky Mountain News, and that dogs are more prone to fighting than wolves. Grandin’s title highlights the idea that humans derived tremendous evolutionary benefits by learning to coexist with other animals, and pet owners who read her book will feel they, too, have attained a higher plane. Her key insight, said John Timpane in The Philadelphia Inquirer, is that we should open our eyes to the things that trigger our pets’ negative emotions and promote activities that turn on their impulses to seek and play. “In doing our best for them, we do our best for ourselves.”