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A voice for the animals

Animal science, behavior expert Temple Grandin speaks at OSV

Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, one of the world’s foremost academics on autism and animal science, lectured at Old Sturbridge Village as part of a four-day tour of the northeast to promote healthy, local meat production. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
March 02, 2010
STURBRIDGE — Whether it's seen in the gaze of a family pet or a farm animal, there is an unmistakable thought process occurring behind the eyes of every creature.

"We've still got some people who say animals don't have emotions, and that's just BS," said Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and guest speaker at Old Sturbridge Village Monday, March 1.

Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism in 1950, is one of the world's leading authorities on animal behavior and treatment. Grandin revolutionized the slaughter and meat packing industry over the last 30 plus years through development of an auditing process to assess the treatment of animals on industrial farms, ensuring the healthiest, least stressful lives possible.

Grandin's stop at OSV was the first of four regional engagements as part of the United States Department of Agriculture and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education's Producing Natural Local Meat for Consumers program. Grandin also planed events at the University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Grandin explained that as someone with autism, her memory functions like a rolodex of images rather than an inner monologue of language — much like that of an animal.

Although that mode of thinking may be unique to people with autism, it has enabled her to understand the thought process of animals.

"When you think in language, you tend to over-generalize," Grandin said. "You've got to enter a sensory based world where memories are pictures, memories are smells, memories are little sounds."

By understanding that type of recall, Grandin is able to understand what makes animals nervous and subsequently, how to keep them calm.

"Calm animals are easier to handle," she said in her lecture.

Grandin explained animals remember specific events, even though they do not have the capability of mentally documenting them with words. Events stay in the minds of animals, and using horses an example, Grandin said an animal that may have been hurt or traumatized by one piece of equipment may forever react nervously — even violently — to that same piece of equipment, or anything the horse mistakes for it.

See Wednesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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