Friday, March 03, 2006


Here's the second of two posts with fun stuff I gleaned from reading Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. (The first post is here.)

I have another excerpt that hits home for me, but before we go there, I wanted to relay some interesting things I've learned about dogs, and some vindication I got on my attitudes about dogs that bite (thinking specifically of children who are killed and maimed).

Here's the fact: Once a dog bites - a by that I mean really bites hard, breaking the skin, intending to hurt - that dog will always be a danger. In fact, it will bite again, it's just a matter of when. So, this leads to the hard ugly fact that if you have children and a dog that bites, someone needs a new home. And the shelter needs to know he bites.

What's interesting about the causes of that is it's based typically on breed type and how the dog is socialized with people during the window in their puppyhood when they're figuring out the pack politics. Dogs simply have the pack mentality politics built in and the owner has to know this and raise the dog accordingly. It's of utmost importance with dog breeds that are naturally aggressive (through the effects of breeding), and those are (no surprise): German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers (the worst actually, worse than Pit Bulls) and any wolf mix. The way dogs group things is that each family member (pack member, to them) has a status, and then people outside of the pack all have different statuses, too. The upshot of this is even if your dog is socialized to the fact that your children are above them in the hierarchy (and that should be made very very clear to them), they have to be socialized to children outside of the family, too, for them to be as safe as possible. This goes for men and women, too - particularly with the aggressive dogs. When they're puppies, you must get neighbors and friends to handle them and dominate them, or else they may just assume that strange men and women are below them, and might attack.

I was the victim of just such an attack once, and didn't understand why until I read this book. I knew the family had acclimated the dog to realize they were beneath everyone in the family, but it didn't dawn on me at the time (after my attack) that the dogs were otherwise isolated outside in a dogrun, and didn't get used to strangers. When we went camping with these folks, one day, seemingly literally out of the blue, the dog lunged for my throat, and if I weren't such a spaz with a highly developed flight complex (I jump so hard when you startle me, some people use it a form of personal entertainment, such as my daughter), I'd've had my throat bitten or pulled out.

Another interesting thing is that dog appearance does mean something. Any dog that looks wolf-like means that in fact the breeding hasn't removed a lot of those dangerous wolf-like tendencies. Recently an experiment was done to domesticate foxes by selecting the most docile animals and allowing only them to breed. What occurred over generations is the foxes lost their distinctive fox coloring, and they became mottled with black and white fur, much like an Border Collie. In addition, their tails got a curl to them, just like many other domestic breeds.

So, to an extent, if a dog looks dangerous, it probably is. Let's be careful out there.

Alright, to the excerpt. I loved this, because I realized this very same thing quite a few years ago in my career, and have since always striven for the most concise and simple way to state things. I've gotten resistance because when it's in plain English, some folks think it doesn't sound educated enough, or it doesn't feel like "real work" went into it. Whipheads, all.

Anyway, here's Ms. Grandin's rant on simplicity:

Working in animal welfare, I constantly have to reason with normal humans who are too smart for their own good. [...]

For my animal welfare audit, I came up with five key measurements inspectors need to take to ensure animals receive humane treatment at a meatpacking plant:

- Percentage of animals stunned, or killed, correctly on first attempt (this as to be at least 95 percent of the animals.).
- Percentage of animals who remain unconscious after stunning (this must be 100 percent).
- Percentage of animals who vocalize (squeal, bellow, or moo, meaning "ouch!" or "you're scaring me!") during handling and stunning. Handling includes walking through the alleys and being held in the restraining device for stunning (no more than 3 cattle out of 100).
- Percentage of animals who fall down (animals are terrified of falling down, and this should be no more than 1 out of 100, which is still more than would fall down under good conditions, since animals never fall down if the floor is sound and dry).
- Electric prod usage (no more than 25 percent of the animals).

I also have a list of five acts of abuse that are an automatic failure:

- Dragging a live animal with a chain.
- Running cattle on top of each other on purpose.
- Sticking prods and other objects into sensitive parts of animals.
- Slamming gates on animals on purpose.
- Losing control and beating an animal.

This is all you need to rate animal welfare at a meatpacking plant. Just these ten details. You don't need to know if the floor is slippery, something regulators always want to measure. [...] If cattle are falling down, there's a problem with the floor, and the plant fails the audit. It's that simple.

The plants love it, because they can do it. The audit is totally based on things an auditor can directly observe that have objective outcomes. [...]

But I find that most people in academia and often government just don't get it. Most language-based thinkers find it difficult to believe that such a simple audit really works. [...]

When highly verbal people get control of the audit process, they tem to make five critical mistakes:

- They write verbal auditing standards that are too subjective and vague, with requirements like "minimal use of electric prod" and "non-slip flooring." Individual inspectors have to figure out for themselves what "minimal use" means. [...]
- For some reason, highly verbal people have a tendency to measure inputs, such as maintenance schedules, employee training records, and equipment design problems, instead of outputs, which is how the animals are actually doing. [...]
- Highly verbal people want to make the audit way too complicated. A 100-item checklist doesn't work nearly as well as a 10-item checklist, and I can prove it.
- Verbal people drive into paper audits, in which they audit a plant's records instead of its animals. [...]
- Verbal people tend to lose sight of what's important and end up treating small problems the same way they treat big problems.

If you give an auditor a 100-item checklist, he'll tend to treat 50 of the items as if they're major, whereas only 10 items are so critical that if the plant fails any of those 10 it should fail the audit, period. [...]

Even worse, an auditor working with a long, overly complicated checklist can miss the huge problems completely, even though they're on the list. [...]

Unfortunately, to an abstract verbal thinker, a list with 100 different animal welfare items sounds more caring than a list with only 5. But I can prove beyond question that animals in plants undergoing 10-question audits are handled much more humanely than animals in plants undergoing 100-question audits. And it's not just that plants using my checklist do well on the big details. They also do better on the smaller details, because the smaller details are part of the big ones.

Even though TG goes kinda hard on "verbal people," and I certainly consider myself verbal person (guess I can add that near-pejorative to my already packed list of "breeder, cracker, redneck, fatass, and old fart"), I completely agree with her.

Though I wonder why, even though I am a verbal person, I came personally came to a lot of the same conclusions she did. Hmmm....

If I ever figure that out, I'll let you know.


Anonymous said...

Yahm asks: "I wonder why, even though I am a verbal person, I came personally came to a lot of the same conclusions she did."

Because "verbal" is not the best description of the type of person she is describing. She despises people who value the appearance of progress over actual progress, abstract thinking over concrete reality, and administrative process over real productivity. And maybe she's thinking that verbal types are more likely to commit these sins than other thinkers, but I doubt it. It seems to me that these sins are committed just as often by visual thinkers and by logical thinkers as well.

Let's stick to "abstractifiers". It seems to fit better.

Yahmdallah said...

Very good point.