“Dogs Are People, Too”

Yet another powerful data point that buttresses the idea that the more we study animal cognition and intelligence the smarter and more emotionally complex we understand animals to be. Rarely, if ever, does a study of animal intelligence conclude: “Well, they are dumber than we thought.”

FOR the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an M.R.I. scanner — completely awake and unrestrained. Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans.

Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: dogs are people, too…

…The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.

DOGS have long been considered property. Though the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and state laws raised the bar for the treatment of animals, they solidified the view that animals are things — objects that can be disposed of as long as reasonable care is taken to minimize their suffering.

But now, by using the M.R.I. to push away the limitations of behaviorism, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives), seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.

This leads nicely into a logical (and powerful) argument about the need for some sort of limited legal personhood for dogs and other animals.

I’m not sure why research is necessary to prove that dogs and other animals have emotions, as well as think and feel in ways that we humans can understand and recognize. Perhaps humanity jealously guards its sense of exceptionalism (not to mention the desire to exploit animals freely for profit). But if this is the sort of research that is required to get humanity to rethink the ways in which we subordinate and treat animals, then I am glad it is being done.

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