Temple Grandin

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Animal Welfare
Diverse Communities
Temple Grandin's work in designing safe, humane animal handling systems for meat processors has eliminated a great deal of inhumane treatment of animals. Her argument that animals are not things because they can feel pain and fear makes an important moral distinction that demands that humans respect the right of animals to be free of fear and pain inflicted by humans.


Biographical Highlights
Temple Grandin is an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University.  Grandin is one of the leading authorities on the design of animal handling facilities, specializing in the humane handling of animals at the point of slaughter in the meat industry.  She is credited with having “done more to improve welfare for animals at the point of slaughter than any human alive.” (The Guardian, 10/25/05)  Grandin has autism; a condition which she believes helps her to think or perceive more like an animal than a “normal” human, and has led to her insights concerning animal behavior.

Historic Roots

Temple Grandin was born in Boston, MA, in 1947.  It was soon apparent that she was developmentally different than most young children.  She did not talk until she was three and a half years old.  Instead, she communicated by humming or screaming.  She was eventually labeled autistic, and her parents were urged to institutionalize her.  Instead, her mother pushed for her inclusion in the activities of “normal” children, and did not isolate her.  Grandin struggled in school.  She says her schoolmates thought she was “weird”, and admits that she was “totally useless” at algebra and languages in high school.  However, Grandin found a way to succeed in animal science programs, eventually earning a doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1989.

As Grandin’s career developed she found ways to use the perspective of her autistic brain to better understand the animals she was working with.  She believes that autistic brains are less interconnected than "normal” brains, leading to increased abilities to concentrate in a specific area, to specialize.  She believes that she can empathize with animals better than non-autistic individuals because her thought process is less abstract than theirs.  She has a more “cow’s eye” view of life.  Because of the differences in the way she perceives things, Grandin often refers to herself as “an anthropologist from Mars.”  Grandin explores this concept in her book, Animals in Translation, where she points out that “normal” perception is defined by “normal” humans.  The definition would be quite different is some other species were in a position to apply their own definitions of “normal.”  Grandin has used that empathy to help bring humane practices to the meat industry.

Grandin’s interest in humane slaughter springs from the belief that, if an animal has a nervous system so highly developed that it can feel pain, then that animal must be protected from pain inflicted by human action.  In a paper titled “Animals are not Things” Grandin argues that protection from pain and fear are the rights of animals who have the cerebral capacity to feel those emotions, even if the animals are considered property by the legal system.  She contrasts the need for the protection of a cow with the needs of a screwdriver.  Both are property, but the cow warrants legal and moral protection because it is a living being with the capacity to feel fear and pain.  In this culture, we can slaughter a cow for food, but the act must be carried out in a way that is humane, and causes the animal no fear or pain.  On the other hand, we can destroy a screwdriver with a hammer without suffering any penalty, because a screwdriver is a thing. (Grandin, 2002)

Grandin’s major contribution to the welfare of animals has been her work in designing animal handling systems that minimize pain and fear, particularly at slaughterhouses.  Not only are calm animals easier to handle, but the meat produced in the process is of higher quality when the animals are not afraid.  She has designed ramp systems that bring animals to the slaughter point using their natural tendencies and instincts, and not arousing fear.  Grandin has also developed systems which help audit slaughterhouses for humane practices.  She is a consultant to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, helping these corporations to ensure that humane practices are in place where they source the meat served in their restaurants.  Around fifty percent of the cattle handled in the United States are put through systems designed by Grandin.  Equipment designed by her is also in widespread use in Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Grandin continues her work, teaching at Colorado State University, delivering lectures and papers world-wide, and advocating the humane treatment of animals.  She also continues to work as a consultant to many large corporations in the meat processing business.  Grandin has published several important books in her career, including Thinking in Pictures, which explores the ramifications of her autism, and Animals in Translation, which is a discussion of her ability to empathize with animals because of her autism.  Grandin has been honored with many awards for her advocacy of animal welfare throughout her career.  Some of the more noteworthy awards are the Humane Award of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1999, The Founders Award of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1999, and the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal of the Humane Society of the United States, 2001.


Temple Grandin is an important figure in the field of animal welfare.  Her work in designing safe, humane animal handling systems for meat processors has eliminated a great deal of inhumane treatment of animals from the meat processing industry.  Praise for her work in that field is almost universal.  Her other contribution has been to provide some philosophical support for the idea that animals have rights.  Her argument that animals are not things because they can feel pain and fear makes an important moral distinction that demands that humans respect the right of animals to be free of fear and pain inflicted by humans.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Dr. Grandin’s work has helped to provide the philosophical underpinnings for the advocacy of Animal Rights by groups such as Animal Rights International (http://www.ari-online.org), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (http://www.peta-online.org).  Her work on the design of humane animal handling facilities is very useful to advocates of humane animal handling, such as Compassion in World Farming (https://www.ciwf.org/).

Key Related Ideas

  • Animal Welfare:  the compassion and respect due animals as living, responsive beings.  Animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and this is not to be left to the compassionate impulses of humans, but is an entitlement that must be protected under the law.
  • Animal Rights:  The idea that animals have endowed rights to humane treatment.  The right to freedom from human inflicted pain. 
  • Humane Slaughter:  Animals should be stunned into unconsciousness prior to being slaughtered to ensure a quick relatively painless death.  

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Henry Spira:  Spira was the long time leader of Animal Rights International and the architect of successful campaigns against the use of animals in product testing and research projects that resulted in harm to the animal subjects.  He is seen as one of the founders of the animal rights movement.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Animal Rights International:  ARI is one of the original advocates of the idea of animal rights in the United States.  The organization was the first to achieve a victory over an animal rights issue.  (http://www.ari-online.org).
  • Compassion in World Farming:  CIWF advocates humane treatment of animals in agricultural settings world wide.  The goals of this organization are very similar to those of Dr. Grandin.  (https://www.ciwf.org/).




  • Temple Grandin. “Animals are not Things”.  http://www.grandin.com/welfare/animals.are.not.things.html.
  • Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson.  Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.