Dogs, Emotions and "Personhood"

Monday, October 14, 2013 - 4:00pm
grey and white pitbull wearing purple collar

On October 5, The New York Times published an opinion piece by Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, about his two-year study of brain activity in conscious pet canines. (Rest assured, no dogs were harmed: “We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave.”)

For Berns, who found that positive anticipation (of food or familiar people, etc.) stems from the same part of the brain in both humans and dogs, the study’s takeaway is “Dogs are people, too.” This leads him to question the righteousness of dogs’ current legal status: “[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 week the website posted a great follow-up article that expands on the concept of “personhood” for animals and quotes the ASPCA’s own Stacy Wolf, Senior Vice President, Anti-Cruelty Group—read it here.

What Do You Think?
We want to hear your take on this debate. Should dogs be given the same legal protections as people, or is it right to continue to categorize them as “property”? In what ways have your own dogs shown you that they have emotions? Have your say in our comments section, below.

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Gary Bagel

People were created in the image of God and given dominion over all the earth. I am a pet lover and Dog lover and have three dogs and a cat. I take good care of them and spend lots of time giving and receiving love to and from them. However dogs are not people and should never get legal status like humans. I fight for the humane treatment of all animals, but also fight for the fact that people and only people are people. Animals are animals. Yes prevent cruelty, but allow euthanasia for animals and never for people. That should be clear in the mind of all reasonable adults.


I have to disagree with you on euthanasia. Why is it ok to do this to our animals when they can't say yes this is what I want or no I am not in pain right now so let me stay with you a little longer. Humans can say these things and I think we should have the right to choose if it is our time to go with out it being considered suicide. If you are terminal why should you have to suffer if you choose not to. Let people go in peace with their dignity still in tact. If it is ok for our beloved animals then it should be ok for us.


I have always believed that dogs and other animals have feelings the same as humans and should be treated in a respectful manner. I don't think that a pet is my property I think of them as a family member. I can't stand to see people have pets that they leave outside all the time. What purpose does it serve the human and how cruel is that to leave the pet alone all the time. I also don't think that a canine should be placed in harms way as a police dog. I understand they are protecting our officers, but they do not choose their line of work it is chosen for them. They also don't understand the possible consequences. Humans on the other hand choose to be law enforcement and no full well what can happen. Why is it ok for us to make such dangerous choices for an animal. Lets take action now and make people understand that all animals have feelings. They don't want to be abused, left alone or left without food. I think of how I would feel if someone mistreated me and I know I would not like it. I say dogs and other companions certainly do have feelings and we should open our minds to this.

Mary-Frances Ellis

Any dog or cat owner knows these animals feel pain and have emotions. Their emotions, depression, joy, shame, all show in their eyes and faces. Even cats react happily by the way they greet you. Just because cats are more independant, that doesn't mean there are no emotions. They know when you arrive before you have even entered the house. They know what time to expect you home. To neglect or abuse an animal is like treating your own children in the same manner. No, I do not believe animals are property. That concept and the laws need to be changed and updated severely.


I know my dogs have emotions. After all, they huge me time to time by putting there head to my chest and lick, (kiss) me often. I can even ask them for a huge and they do it to make me feel better.
My dogs also, so happiness, sadness, stressfulness, and excitement. It's not because I have a treat for them either, it's because they feelings.
I believe in you study Professor Berns. I see it every day with 4 dogs.


I know that dogs are not just equal to people, but superior beings. They give unconditional love and can teach humans about compassion, forgiveness and pure selfless love.




I love dogs, I love people who love dogs, I hate people. That being said, any one who has ever truly adored, not loved, a dog KNOWs that a dog has every emotion that a human has - it just is too advanced in spirit to show the ugliness humans have. I don't need this article to tell me that. Our dogs have taught us more than any human, have given us more than we ever gave them, and have left us grieving far more than any other human we have lost. They are the veil through which we experience the unconditional love of the Divine (of your choice)...intellect is wasted on the arrogant. I'd rather live in the company, love, devotion, and emotion of dogs than any human any day.


While I have had dogs all my life, from rescue to raising & training (incl service dogs & even horribly abused hybrids) there's no question that they feel emotion on a higher level than many people give them credit for. My last rescue was a hybrid (yes, wolf-dog) that was confiscated by the Humane Society in AZ - that was being used as a 'bait dog' for dog fighting... disgusting what people do to animals, as someone literally ground all his teeth down w/ an electric sander (apparently common practice as not to possibly ?scar their prized fighters) - it is appauling. Needless to say, aside from hybrid behavior issues (why then end up in shelters & almost always auto-euthanized) it took me a while to finally get him to come around. He is the biggest sweetheart, aside of what horribly trauma he's been through - I would say he's probably about 10 now, and I've had him for maybe 2 1/2 yrs (coming to us emaciated, a mental wreck & scarred from head to tail). While I am finally able to elicit kisses :) - he suffers from what can only be the most horrific nightmares, undoubtedly dreaming of past events... it is enough to break your heart hearing his mournful howling & limbs flinching every which way while he sleeps. I would say there's too much emotion he experiences at these times, which I always try to wake him from w/ an assuring voice & touch that he's ok now.

When it comes to the rights - whether you want to call it ownership or what have you, something much more needs to be done to protect them from those evil people that see them as disposable objects. So if it's to increase their rights, I say ANYTHING that can only improve their right to live fulfilling, happy & loving lives with us 'humans' - I'm all for it! SOMETHING MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO PROTECT THEM - no matter what it is... just the other day I see on the news out here in AZ, one of the saddest cases of a younger boy that owned a pit (not everyone's favorite breed), but this was a little puppy that couldn't be more than 3 or 4 months - who was given to some strange man on the street offering to crop his ears. Needless to say, what was done to this poor thing is beyond inexcusable - this little PUPPY had his EARS COMPLETELY CUT OFF W/ A BOX CUTTER & SCISSORS! A few yrs ago, a similar horrendous event in which someone took a KITTEN and literally CUT HIS PAWS OFF - for what? I couldn't tell you other than to feed a sick individual's ? I can't even think of a word. Regardless, SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE TO PROTECT THESE ANIMALS - whether or not it's to level their 'status' as emotional beings and/or to seriously punish these people for such evil actions - it should be in my opinion, something to avoid things such as this happening in the first place. Sorry to be such a downer, but I personally am at my wits end to see all of these unspeakable cruelties happening in this Country. Why cannot more be done than possibly relying on a limited study to learn something that most of us already know?


Gem615, I am with you all the way on this. I am so heart sickened when I hear about all these awful things that these sick ******* are doing to these poor defenseless animals. I feel like crying more often then not because of this. We in NY had a sick person nail 3 pit puppies feet to railroad tracks last year, 2 survived 1 did not. The rehab was long for the 2 that survived, they are still healing and the same person that did that was arrested for leaving adult dogs in a u-haul trailer in the middle of winter freezing with no food or water, he served a little time in jail then was told no pets and yet he moved in with his mother who has dogs.....What is wrong with society that we can't see the big picture here....We need to stop these horrific acts on our animals. Even the live stock need to be treated with kindness. Lets all start making our politicians stand up for animal rights. Someone needs to make people accountable for their actions. Let start voicing our opinions louder....