A Conversation with Temple Grandin

Posted by Catherine Rogers, marketing coordinator

When it comes to empathy, Temple Grandin knows how to walk in the shoes of another being. And that’s especially true if that other being doesn’t have shoes at all, but hooves, paws, or claws.

Dr. Grandin is one of the world’s leading animal scientists, known for her sensitivity to the details that affect animals’ stability and well-being. The roots of her experience with animals extend from early childhood into Dr. Grandin’s adult life as a professor, author, inventor, and animal-handling expert.

You can begin to see why she was PRIM&R’s top choice to deliver the Henry Spira Memorial Lecture at the 2009 IACUC Conference next month.

In spite of her demanding schedule, Dr. Grandin took some time out of her national book tour to talk with me about her acclaimed book, Animals Make Us Human, and how it relates to the many unique challenges animal care and use professionals face on a daily basis.

She explained that her book looks at the way animals see the world, and how their emotional systems share qualities of the human’s: Fear, rage, separation anxiety, and the need for companionship are just a few of the commonalities between humans and animals.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘what is motivating this animal?’” she said, to begin understanding its actions and reactions. “For instance, little animals, like gerbils, want cover. They don’t like being exposed, so you give them a tunnel or some paper towels, and they’ll dig, dig, dig, dig…”

Dr. Grandin further explained that those paper towels aren’t just filler for the bottom of the gerbil’s cage. They provide the enriching, protective environment that plays a large role in the animal’s well being. Therefore, she urges people—animal handlers, livestock workers, institutional animal care and use committee members, and pet owners alike—to accept that an animal’s wellness is directly related to its environment and take necessary steps to ensuring its comfort.

“When handlers pick [animals] up roughly, the creature’s cortisone levels can increase five hundred percent, and this will affect research results,” she said. “If you’re testing a drug, for instance, the animal is a model for a human. You wouldn’t test drugs on a person just mugged in the subway, now would you?”

Overall, Dr. Grandin’s message hinges on decreasing an animal’s fear and increasing the enrichment in its surroundings. In doing so, scientists can garner more accurate test results, while still upholding high standards in the conduct of research.

PRIM&R looks forward to hearing more from Dr. Grandin on March 30 when she delivers the Henry Spira Memorial Lecture. We look forward to welcoming her—and you—to San Diego in March!