Books / Environment / Psychology

Judge not, our animals in our human terms…


Cover of "Animals in Translation: Using t...

Cover via Amazon


Speed-reading a book is never a fun task. Skipping pages and zigzagging through paragraphs will serve the book great injustice.

Unfortunately, I had to do just that with Temple Grandin’s & Catherine Johnson’s 2006 book, ‘Animals in Translation‘. I suppose it’s a popular book with a constant demand in the library. Thus, preventing me from extending my loan period beyond two weeks.

Temple Grandin is a rare autistic genius. Despite her disability, she managed to obtain her doctorate in animal science. With her designs, she ‘humanized’ more than half of the slaughterhouses in the U.S.. She attributed her success to her mother who had never gave up hope on Grandin. The dim embers of hope in a mother’s heart became a blazing fire when she discovered her daughter humming a Bach tune. Her inspiring story of success and perseverance reminds me of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller; but, this is not the point of the book.

As a child, Grandin discovered an affinity to animals and has earned the nickname, ‘The woman who thinks like a cow‘. Through this book, she wanted to tell us that we do not understand animals. We are underestimating their intelligence by creating standards based on a human being’s perception on the senses, emotions and values.

And, how does she know this? Because she’s autistic. She claims that autism and animals have a similar way of viewing the world. With a smaller frontal lobe compared to normal human beings, both animals and autistic are more hyper-perceptive and view the world in pictures. Both have a heightened perception of fear and both have lower feeling of pain. More details are in the book, which I will leave it to you to find out.


Cow Arzúa, Galicia)

Image via Wikipedia


Anyway, the authors’ efforts in trying to understand the world in an animal’s perspective is impressive. There were times when I found the lack of subtlety annoying (e.g. the use of ‘Period’ to emphasize the sentence). But, I admired Grandin’s tenacity in her passion to understand animals. She would get down to all fours to understand why cows panic before entering an alley in a slaughterhouse. By seeing through the animal’s eyes, she could see the dangling chains, or reflective puddles of water, or yellow cloths that made the animals cower in the slaughterhouses.

I am an animal lover myself — I have a cat with an interesting personality back home — and I’m glad I have read this brave attempt to comprehend animals. By knowing how autistic people and animals think, we are a step nearer to understanding how our brains really work. We should not judge animals in our terms because they have different perceptions on emotions, pain, fear, the five senses, and social behaviour. More studies must be done on animal behaviour and autism. And, if Temple Grandin is right, autistic people really might be the broken link between an animal mind and a normal human mind.


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