Tuesday 9.30pm SBS ONE
Wednesday 2.00pm SBS ONE (repeat)

The Cow Whisperer

 

If you haven't heard the name Temple Grandin before stay tuned because the world is going to hear much more about this quite remarkable woman. As well as being America's most famous animal scientist, Temple Grandin is what is known as a high-functioning autistic. Her work with people suffering autism - and, surprisingly, cattle - has been nothing short of inspirational. Recently immortalised in the multi-Emmy-nominated HBO telemovie starring actress Claire Danes, 62-year-old Grandin says it's her autism that's given her such a unique insight into animal behaviour. Here's Dateline's David Brill with the one-off Ms Grandin.

 

 

REPORTER: David Brill

 

 

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  If I was just to jump up suddenly, they would jump back. And then if I just stood here quietly, or sat here quietly, they'd gradually come up to me. You know, they'd either be kind of in seek mode, or in fear mode. If I make a lot of rapid motion, then that tends to scare them. If I stand up, they won't come up as close. If I lay down on the ground, they'll lick ya. Animals are attracted to new things. New things are both scary and attractive.

 

20 years ago, when I designed the centre-track restrainer system, you know, which was being put in all the large meat-packing plants, I got kind of thinking, "Oh, I just designed a system for killing cattle for the world's largest meat plants" and I was standing on this cow walk, looking over this whole big sea of cattle underneath me and got to thinking, "Those cattle never would have been born if we hadn't put the bulls and the cows together - those cattle never would have existed at all. We've bred 'em, we've just got to treat 'em right."

 

Now beef cattle have got the best life - they're living outside. You know, all beef cattle regardless of whether they go to one of the specialty markets or they go to the regular supermarket, spends at least half its life outside on pasture. And there are some problems with some of the intensively raised animals - with the egg-layers and with the pigs there are things that need to be corrected.

 

We don't want to have a chain wiggling like that. Why do I have to be talking about wiggling chains? I have been talking about wiggling chains for 35 years! Why do I have to keep talking about them? Because people don't take them out - It's like they don't see it.

 

Cattle always tend to go back to where they came from, so when I bring them in to the crowd pen, they come all around the full 180 degrees. I'm taking advantage of that tendency to go back where they came from. That's a natural behaviour of cattle. The other advantage of the curved chute is as the animals enter it, they don't see the people standing around the squeeze chute waiting to give them vaccinations.

 

REPORTER:  Did she sign the book?

 

WOMAN: She signed this book. Right there - She's been an amazing inspiration. I work with horses and people on the spectrum and she has helped me understand autism just about more than anybody else because she sees it through the eyes of animals and kids and it's just incredible.

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  OK, this goes to...? Jake.

 

REPORTER: I noticed this young boy who was autistic. He came up and he was looking at Temple like she was a rock star or a movie star.

 

WAYNE GILPIN, PRESIDENT ‘FUTURE HORIZONS’:  Temple was always a huge attraction and admired in the autism world but since the movie, it's just become literally rock star status.

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  When I was a little kid, I had all the full-blown symptoms of autism - this was 1949. Not much was known about autism. I had no speech, I constantly screamed, but fortunately I had very good teachers. I had lots of hours of early intervention. My mother had a nanny who spent hours playing turn-taking games with me and my sister. "You've got to teach these little kids turn-taking." Now the movie does an absolutely fantastic job showing how my mind works - the sensory problems and the anxiety.

 

CLAIRE DANES, MOVIE: My name is Temple Grandin. I'm not like other people. I think in pictures and I connect them. I know my system will work because I've been through it a thousand times in my head. I can see a chute just as the cattle will because that's something my autism lets me do. The cattle goes through a series of solid curves, and the floor is solid too. The chute gets smaller but the cattle won't mind because they don't see any danger. They just think they're getting into another truck. The stairway leads them gently upwards. The floor becomes a conveyer. A rest rises up to meet their chests so they're comfortably carried. They'll be very calm.

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  So it will be 5:30 to do a remote talk and I could get my PowerPoint sent in. What time would the evening meeting be? Bye.

 

REPORTER: Just quickly, Temple, since the film, has the workload doubled?

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  Yes, it has, it definitely has doubled.

 

REPORTER:  What's going to happen when it comes out on DVD as well.

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  Well, I don't know.

 

REPORTER: Do you think you might need a secretary?

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  Well, I already have a secretary. But I find that it's easier for me to do my own calendar. It is just a whole lot easier.

 

MOVIE: Hi, Temple, there here is Red Harris from 'Cattle' magazine.

 

Nice to meet you, Mr Harris.

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  In the movie it shows Claire Danes before I took anti-depressant medication, and when I was nervous, like now, what I would have loved to have done without that, 20 years of having those horrible nerves. That was like being in a constant state of stage fright all the time - imagine if this airport was full of poisonous snakes. You'd constantly be going it would just be horrible.

 

REPORTER: And that has helped that of course.

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  Oh, yeah. It made it go away.

 

REPORTER: How many days a week would you be on the road?

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  Five and a half - yeah, on the road a whole lot.

 

ANDREA: Did you hear about the award?

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  I couldn't believe it, just couldn't believe it. You know Claire really deserves it and then there's all the other ones, I have got to look up all the things I think one of them said to someone. I have to say that that's one of the ones I would really like to get because it might win an Emmy.

 

Yeah, and these are some of my awards over there. Those are the awards that don't go on the wall. The wall awards I've got over there. This is from the Meat Hall of Fame, this is the director's chair back from the movie and those are two pins that Claire wore in the movie. This came from Australia - he is made in Australia. And I got him from Australia and one of the things I like to do when I go to another country is get a little animal to bring back home from each country. These are livestock handling and welfare textbooks. This is 'Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach'. This is designed for people who are going to be implementing animal welfare.

 

REPORTER: These are all for professional people?

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  Yes, these are professional books - strictly. This one right here, 'Animals in Translation'. This book has sold over 300,000 copies, just in the US alone. Then of course I have got 'Thinking in Pictures'. That is my main autism book. This originally came out in the mid-90s, updated in 2006, and this is the book where I interviewed other people and found out that other people thought differently than I thought.

 

REPORTER: So, Temple there was no-one to tell you that other people didn't think like you?

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  Well, I didn't know until I wrote 'Thinking in Pictures' and I started asking other people about how they think. Then that is when I found out that my thinking was really, really different. Gradually I got more and more insight into how my thinking was different. You know, the thing is to solve problems in the world, we need to have different kinds of minds.

 

REPORTER: Temple, what you went through as a young person, particularly in school and growing up, very important news of kids bullying you, did you manage to get rid of that - that insecurity that that would have caused?

 

TEMPLE GRANDIN:  That was really bad. The teenage years were the worst part of my life. I was absolutely completely miserable as a teenager and was teased. I was called 'Workhorse' and 'Bones' and 'Desert Woman' and all kinds of bad things like that and the refuges I had away from teasing were things like horseback riding and the science lab. You know, the students doing those activities were not involved in the teasing. This it's so important to get the quirky kind of kids involved in the shared-interest things - computer programming, robotics, art, band, drama club, journalism - all of those special-interest things.

 



GEORGE NEGUS:  I told you - inspirational. This week medicos in London reported they've developed a brain scan that could offer a more "straightforward" diagnosis of autism. That slice of Temple Grandin's life was filmed, as we said, by David Brill. And David's with us now.  David, good to see you.

 

DAVID BRILL, VIDEO JOURNALIST: Nice to be with you, George.

 

GEORGE NEGUS:  Over the years, you and I have met a lot of characters - a lot of characters. Would you agree with me she's a one-off?

 

DAVID BRILL: She is a one-off, particularly where she came from. She didn't even know how to speak until she was four or five. And she is a full professor at a university in Colorado.

 

GEORGE NEGUS:  So she has come a long way from those really awful early days of autism? I mean, when you first met her though, I mean she's unusual, to say the least. Brilliant, strange, different. Did you say, "What have I got myself into? How am I going to handle this?"

 

DAVID BRILL: Yes, well I went to the conference a bit earlier just to watch her come in. Because I heard that she does not like to be touched, or shake her hand, and I thought I'd just go there early and sit on my own quietly and watch what she does. Then I went up to her and said, "Hello, I am David Brill from Dateline in Australia," and she said "Oh yes, welcome", and away we went. But it took a day or so to get her confidence and feel relaxed with me.

 

GEORGE NEGUS:   I have to ask you, what's with the Dolly Parton outfit?

 

DAVID BRILL:  Well, she's got a whole stack of those shirts and she even got one made up out of very expensive silk to wear on the Logie night. She is going to the Logies where the feature film that has been made about her is up for a 13 Emmy awards. But she has got one nearly for every day. And I said to her, "Do you wear these all the time?" And she said, "Yes, I'm really a bush girl - I'm a farmer. I am out there with the cows." And she has got an old leather belt and a very old buckle that was given to her by her grandfather, and that is her uniform.

 

GEORGE NEGUS:   We have labelled her the 'Cow whisperer'. How do you describe her?

 

DAVID BRILL:  I think it is a very good title because when she is with people, even now after all these years, you can see that nervousness there. She is still a bit afraid about going in too close to people but when we went out to the cows, it was like serenity for both of us. She just went into the pen, sat down with them - as you saw in the film - lay down with them and she was at peace.

 

GEORGE NEGUS:  Thinks like a cow?

 

DAVID BRILL: Thinks like a cow - understands cows and they seem to understand her because I couldn't move the camera too much because if I did, the cows would jump back, but she was so gentle.

 

GEORGE NEGUS:  Had to ask you this. When you saw her at the conference and places like that, do those authorities, those so-called experts, do they take her seriously or is there a touch of patronisation?

 

DAVID BRILL: No patronising. Very good question, George. No patronising at all. I studied this. When she got an award on the last day I was there - we couldn't fit it into the story because there was not long enough time - she was the only woman with all these professors and scientists - all men who have been around from all over America, and there she was amongst them. When she arrived, all these scientists and professors went up and said "Temple, welcome", with great respect.

 

GEORGE NEGUS:  Great stuff. Great story. I think probably the best way to describe it is somebody who has amazingly turned adversity to their advantage.   And there's much more about Temple Grandin on our website, including a photo gallery with more about her perspectives and influence, plus an interview with the animals rights group PETA about why they support Temple's work. That's at sbs.com.au/dateline.

 

 

 

Reporter/Camera

DAVID BRILL

 

Producers

PETER CHARLEY

JANE WORTHINGTON

 

Editors

NICK O’BRIEN

ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS

 

15th August 2010

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