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Temple Grandin. Photo: © Rosalie Winard

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Correspondent Daniel Zwerdling tries out Temple Grandin's squeeze machine. Zwerdling's verdict: "I felt scared at first that it would squeeze me to death. But after a few minutes, it felt really, really good." Photo: Daniel Zwerdling

PART II      Page  1  2  3  4  5

Kill Them With Kindness

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Executives at a global corporation have turned to a woman with autism and they've asked her to transform their industry. The company is McDonald's—they've launched the first campaign of its kind to pressure slaughterhouses that provide their meat to dispatch the animals more humanely. As we reported in Cracking Down on Egg Suppliers, the company is also pressuring animal farmers to change their ways. The record suggests that the company is partly reacting to political pressures, but whatever the motives, McDonald's is prompting the entire U.S. food industry to make "animal welfare" a major issue. And executives say they couldn't have done it without Temple Grandin.

She Knows How Animals Feel

Temple Grandin is convinced that she knows how animals feel during their final moments in the slaughterhouse. And she's harnessing that power to ease the moment when millions of animals die. In some ways, you can glimpse her connection with animals if you join her at the end of the day, after she's finished another inspection for McDonald's. Grandin goes home to her condo in Fort Collins, Colorado, and she's so speedy, so wired from working and traveling and watching all the slaughter, that she walks to her cramped bedroom and goes to her machine.

"This is the squeezing machine," explains Temple Grandin. "I've got to turn on the compressor to make it work, and when I turn it on, it's going to make a bit of racket. After I use the squeeze machine I have nicer dreams. I get that sort of nice feeling of being held."

Temple Grandin is autistic, and some therapy clinics use this machine, which she invented, when they treat autistic children. The machine stands about waist high, right next to her single bed. There are two slabs of wood, like padded tabletops, propped in the shape of a long V. Grandin lies face down the entire length of the V, so the slabs cradle her body and then she works a hydraulic lever that forces the slabs to squeeze her:

"I can control the pressure," Grandin notes.

Now that she's an adult, Grandin is what researchers call a high-functioning autistic. She's a high-functioning person, period. She's written two memoirs, and appeared on national TV, and she travels around the world giving speeches. But she's struggled her whole life to achieve that. Grandin says she used to attack people in rages. She almost blinded a student who made fun of her. She bit a teacher's leg and made it bleed. Grandin says she'd freak when people touched her:

"I would just jump," says Grandin. "It would be like touching a wild animal. You know when you touch a wild animal — it makes that wild animal jump. People would touch me and I would just pull away. You know, the way my nervous system reacts when I panic is just like the nervous system of cattle or a horse when they panic."

Next: Learning From the Animals

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