Autism Awareness Month, Day 25: Animal Observations By A Woman Not Called Temple Grandin

If there are no dogs in Heaven, when I die I’d like to go where they go. ~attributed to Will Rogers

No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses. ~Anonymous

OK, confession time again…this weekend, in terms of being an Aspie, was just dreadful. There was the continual overcast/low pressure system, the premature death of my laptop battery, the fact that my mattress cover didn’t fit, and of course, the annual Family Get-Together for Easter. For those of you who may not know, I rank these soirees only slightly higher than root canals and transmission overhauls on my anticipation list. Needless to say, I was well below one bar of energy at the conclusion of Easter Sunday. Thanks to a couple of Loca Mochas, I’m back and ready to go on Monday with a favorite topic of mine: the relationship between Aspies and animals.

"Guys, look, it's the Kommandant's cat!"

Regardless of whether or not we love animals, Aspies and Auties owe a great debt to Dr. Temple Grandin, who has spent most of her life doing groundbreaking research on domestic animals and the way they interact with humans. Her first book, Animals in Translation, is a must-read for anyone with the slightest interest in the subject. Long before I had heard of Dr. Grandin’s work, and certainly long before I was diagnosed, I had intuitive feelings about the ways animals changed my life for the better.

I was lucky; my mom and dad always had pets in the house. When I was a baby, it was a pair of temperamental Siamese cats whom I’m told warmed up to me. This is very atypical, as the Siamese is generally a one-person cat, and I was not their “master.” Later it was a Jack Russell terrier, a fat lovable tuxedo alley cat called Percy, a parakeet, even a green iguana. I loved the critters and they loved me. I anticipated each and every visit to the zoo, the riding stables, or the pet shop. At the same time, I positively dreaded visiting other people’s homes (unless, of course, they had pets…I’d immediately seek them out and spend most of my time with them.) My bond with animals was deep, natural, and, I’d argue, genetic. Dr. Grandin, in her book, talks in depth about how humans and dogs (and, to a lesser extent, humans and horses) co-evolved from Ice Age ancestors. We need one another.

I could even write a short manuscript about the number of times strange or even wild animals approached me without having any reason to. There was the coyote out in the badlands of California who trotted right up like an eager housepet. The feral cat whom everyone declared “wild” who melted at my touch. A curious jay who perched close to my hand and stayed for a minute or two. All of these encounters have left me delighted, but also mystified. Do they know, somehow? Can animals sense autism (or, perhaps, does autism have some sort of scent to it?) I see no reason why not, as dogs can detect minute amounts of narcotics and have even been known to find cancer cells or act as early warnings against epilepsy.

Shhh..."Desperate Housedogs" is on

Personally, I believe there’s a great mystery to animals, and we as humans may never understand fully that mystery. We know that pets are almost always beneficial as companions, but some studies have suggested that they can help prolong life, especially for the elderly living alone. I also have a hunch that there really is a special connection between people on the spectrum and animals. Take for example the idea of therapeutic horseback riding. This has proven to be a confidence-builder and life-changer not just for Aspies and Auties, but others with physical and intellectual differences. You also have many organizations now who train service dogs to help not just the visually impaired, but autistic people as well. In fact, I’ve seen critters from Capuchin monkeys to African Grey parrots to miniature horses able to perform various duties to help people in need. These wonderful animals are performing jobs that humans cannot do; their animal senses are keener than ours and they are more instinctive. Is this not the same kind of difference which separates an Aspie from an NT?

I’ve met very few Aspies, myself included, who don’t at least like the company of animals. Some of us are so obsessed that we develop special interests around various species, commonly horses or dogs. Others dream of becoming herpetologists or avian veterinarians. The usual stumbling block is that we deal much better with the animals than their human handlers. No matter how ingenious we might be at intuiting an animal’s inner dialogue, we still have their people to deal with. Therein lies the rub. So what’s an animal-loving Aspie to do?

I may be a dog, but I have a Hog

* Interaction with animals is almost always beneficial. It’s not always possible for everyone to have pets, but there are plenty of opportunities out there. Most local animal shelters are always glad to have extra help walking dogs or socializing cats, and all ages can take part. There are also zoos, aquariums, animal sanctuaries, pet stores, and veterinary offices.

* If you already have a well-behaved pet, look into pet therapy certification.
This is a good, low-stress way for Aspies with pets to get some good social interaction with strangers. Patients in hospitals love getting animal visitors.

* On the same note, why not try and teach your old dog (or cat) a new trick? With the pet obesity crisis approaching that of human levels, it’s important for pets to get daily activity. Teach animals new skills by using positive reinforcement. You might even learn a thing or two!

Again…I stress that while I’m no expert on the subject, there is a certain kind of magic in the way animals and humans interact. I’d argue that the magic is even stronger when it comes to AS. Animals have so much to teach us (as the title of Dr. Grandin’s second book puts it, they make us human.) Oh, and if you’re trying to find your next best friend, I’d strongly urge a visit to your local shelter or rescue group rather than purchasing from a breeder. You’ll be saving a life (and the animal will love you forever, unconditionally!)

Coming tomorrow: Coping with sensory overload in public places. For those of you who read P&Q regularly, thanks as always for your support. For visitors, don’t forget to click “Like” and add me to your subscriptions!


~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 25, 2011.

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abandonen toda esperanza aquellos que entren aqui


You - philosophical, thoughtful, witty. Me - still thinks fart jokes are funny. We should DEFINITELY get together!

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