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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 huffingtonpost.com 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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robbin

While I understand what you are saying regarding scientific method and agree with this particular aspect, having lived with 12 dogs for their full lifetime and with another 37 for between 3 months to 3 years, I don't need a study to tell me that dogs have emotions and intelligence. The various intelligence levels, compliance with behavioral commands and all other aspects of their emotional, behavioral and intelligence levels corresponds exactly to those of the HUMAN POPULATION. They have the same variables in these areas as we do. Even people refuse MRI, CT,X-ray and other medical tests while some do not. The only thing needed to prove these facts to humans who deny these qualities in dogs and other animals is a better scientific test. Better yet, they should try having feelings themselves and becoming human again. My parrot has more intelligence, predictable emotional responses and a higher intelligence level than most 7 year olds I know. He also understands language and is able to communicate with me and strangers as well as effectively as they do. People who fail to accept these facts about animals do so because if they don't it would mean that they'd have to change their ways. To do anything less would create an ethical and moral conflict for them.

robbin

While I understand what you are saying regarding scientific method and agree with this particular aspect, having lived with 12 dogs for their full lifetime and with another 37 for between 3 months to 3 years, I don't need a study to tell me that dogs have emotions and intelligence. The various intelligence levels, compliance with behavioral commands and all other aspects of their emotional, behavioral and intelligence levels corresponds exactly to those of the HUMAN POPULATION. They have the same variables in these areas as we do. Even people refuse MRI, CT,X-ray and other medical tests while some do not. The only thing needed to prove these facts to humans who deny these qualities in dogs and other animals is a better scientific test. Better yet, they should try having feelings themselves and becoming human again. My parrot has more intelligence, predictable emotional responses and a higher intelligence level than most 7 year olds I know. He also understands language and is able to communicate with me and strangers as well as effectively as they do. People who fail to accept these facts about animals do so because if they don't it would mean that they'd have to change their ways. To do anything less would create an ethical and moral conflict for them.

MAUREEN

Property? My dogs are members of our family and treated as such. They know and feel when I'm happy or sad. Once while grieving the loss of a close family member, my brother, I was sitting at the dining room table crying. I thought I was alone but apparently not when my Bull Terrier/Cavalier Spaniel came to me and placed her paw on my thigh and looked into my eyes with a very concerned look. She then made an almost human sound such as a very long "oh" as if to say I miss him too...don't cry...I lifted her to my lap when she started licking my face until the tears were gone. My brother helped me raise her for a little less than 2 years...it was then I realized she felt what was going on and the three dogs (two were my brother's) were also grieving his loss. We all missed him...

alexandra

No animal, pet or not should ever be considered as property,
many of us animal lovers had that question answered ...they are not our property, they are our family, our friends, in many cases our co-workers and also our partners.
Whoever has had an animal in their lives and nurture them, protect them and love them knows that they have emotions..no study needed to prove that.

Dawn

EXACTLY!!!

Victoria

preach, sister! :)

Ruth

A BIG AMEN to that!

Jan E Owen

To call your dog your property is like calling your kids property. My dog is a member of our family. Sometimes she can be more loyal than friends or family. She is always there to cheer me up when I'm sad. I lost both my husband and grandson this past year, if my dog wouldn't have been there for me I don't know what I would have done. She cheered me up and was at my side always just loving me as I was.

Dasi Bhaktivedanta

Of course animals have emotions. Anyone who has ever worked with or lived with an animal understands this fact clearly. As to whether another living being must to show traits similar to those found in our own species to be treated with love and respect is most unfortunate. Animals are people. They are not HUMAN beings but they are most assuredly persons. I do not keep dogs, but have been around dogs, cats, fish, birds, ferrets, cows, deer and many other creatures in my life and am unshakable convinced of what we humans refer to as their personhood. We do not need to treat them as humans. We DO need to treat them as persons. Any naysayers are either suffering ignorance or worse denial. Our anthropocentric attitudes have led to a degraded society which imposes might over right and justifies the most heinous crimes to weaker creatures based on our refusal to see their brilliantly shining consciousness staring us in the face. Why, in God's name (pardon the expression) would we have to prove that they are intelligent and emotional creatures by OUR scientific methods in order to treat them properly? It is a symptom of the arrogance and pride of a species destroying it's own future by exploiting those who are weaker or in a position of less power. Thank you for the nice article and all your selfless work. Please excuse my less than respectful attitude toward human society. I confess I truly cannot fathom the horrors that animals are subjected to in the name of so-called civilization. Sincerely, Dasi Bhaktivedanta

Michelle

You should not apologize for how you feel. I think you underestimate just how many of us feel the same. :)

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