“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.

Annals Of Animal Compassion

The more we see and learn, the more we have to rethink our assumptions regarding animal emotions, and the more we have to attribute real feeling, and real suffering, to non-human animals. For example, Marc Bekoff comes up with a powerful and surprising story of cross-species mourning:

I’ve written a number of essays about grief and mourning in nonhuman animals (animals) and just today I learned of a most heartwarming video of a dog named Bella deeply grieving the loss of Beavis, her beaver friend.

Here’s a brief description of Bella and Beavis’s close friendship.

Before Beavis passed away, he and Bella were inseparable. They ate together, played together, and even shared living quarters. Beavis passed away in 2012, but the pair’s story resurfaced after a video that the owner shot of the two appeared on Reddit.

“In the heartbreaking video, Bella lies by the side of her deceased companion and appears to cling to the idea that Beavis might just sleeping. As Bella seems to realize that her friend is not coming to life, she whimpers, nuzzles, and licks her friend as if trying to say goodbye.”

If that doesn’t help change your moral calculus regarding the lives of animals, then I’m not sure what will.

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