A half-hour before she was scheduled to talk Wednesday in Canisius College's Montante Cultural Center, Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science, was unaware of the animal rights activists who had gathered outside to protest her visit.
Once informed, Grandin was unfazed.
"I get asked all the time if I'm a vegan or a vegetarian, and I'm not. First of all, I have a metabolism that won't function without animal protein, and one of the things you've got to realize is that all of the animals that were raised for food would never have existed if we hadn't bred them," Grandin told reporters, in a brief interview before the lecture.
"But I feel very strongly that we've got to give those animals a life that is worth living."
Grandin's passion for ensuring that cattle and other livestock are treated humanely was documented in an Emmy Award-winning 2010 HBO film drama titled, "Temple Grandin," starring Claire Danes as Grandin. The film also dealt with her struggles as a high-functioning autistic.
Grandin's lecture, titled "Animal Behavior, Autism and Sensory Based Thinking," attracted a crowd of about 1,000.
"One question I think I will answer tonight is 'Do the cattle know they're going to get slaughtered?' And I had to answer that question very early in my career," she said.
Observing cattle in the feed yard at the Swift plant in Arizona, Grandin said she noticed they were far more affected by unexpected movements and sound than any apparent preoccupation with mortality.
"I found the animals were afraid of a chain hanging down or a reflection, you know, moving objects. If you eliminated those distractions, they'd go right up the chute," she said.
Her observations led her to design livestock-handling facilities.
"Mostly I'm going to talk about different kinds of thinking. Some people with autism are visual thinkers, like me. I think in photo-realistic pictures. I absolutely couldn't do algebra, maybe geometry and trig," she said.
"Another kind of mind is the pattern thinker. These are the brilliant guys out in Silicon Valley that have [Asperger's syndrome], which is just mild autism. Then there is a third type where they're a word thinker. They know words very well, and they'll know every fact about their favorite subject."
Grandin, 63, is a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. She has received many rewards for her research and work on behalf of animal welfare.