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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 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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Lynda H.

I, and many others, totally agree!

Steve Chase

My dog "RIGBY" is a rescue dog who is my best friend next to my wife. Just remember....if you lock your wife and dog in your car trunk only one of them will be happy to see you when you open the trunk!!!



Jamie Lyons

Well said Dasi, I agree totally.

Nancy S

Wow, thank you for stating so clearly what I have felt in my heart since I was a tiny child but have never been able to articulate so clearly. Everything alive matters, not just humans. Thank you again!

Julie Lesk

Well said Dasi. I have been in animal rescue for sometime and I am blown away by how ignorant people are in this day and age, with technology being so prevalent that we still live in the dark. Animals are NOT property. I know that animals are animals and humans are humans. However, EVERY living being has feelings. All creatures feel hunger, thirst, pain, loneliness, along with happiness and just plain glad to be alive. WHY does any animal have to live in pain, filth, hungry or fear. I will never understand that. God gave us dominion over animals. God however does not give us the right to treat any living being cruelly in anyway.


Amen! As this study is very interesting , hopefully it will help those misguided creatures who feel the need to belittle another soul due to incompetence. I have found humans to be more animalistic than any other soul I've come across. To think your species better than another just shows ones inability to understand the joys of our differences & similarities. However, regardless of any testing or studies performed, humans will never fully understand the spirit of these precious souls ENTRUSTED TO US unless they can get past what they are. If you want to know what peace feels like, be fortunate enough to be LOVED by one of these souls.


"Why...would we have to prove that they are intelligent and emotional creatures by OUR scientific methods in order to treat them properly?"

Another logical fallacy. The answer is, we dont. Treating them properly has nothing to do with them being intellegent or emotional creatures. We should treat them properly regardless. Otherwise, one could justify mistreatment of any being because they are deemed not emotional or intelligent (to clarify, that is not what i'm arguing but that is where that line of logic takes you). Treatment of animals (or anyone) should NOT be based on their meeting certain criteria. It should be because it's the right thing to do. My point is that you are arguing the wrong thing, you dont have to believe that they are emotional or intelligent in order to treat them properly. It changes the whole dynamic of the argument, no longer do you have to prove any certain state of being in order to know they should be treated properly. Just because you have power over something that is "weaker" is never an excuse for exploitation. That is the real problem at issue here.


You are so right - framing the issue is key. If ability to feel, etc. and to act "human" were the criterion, we would "euthanize" mentally disabled folks and pull the plug on those unresponsive in comas.


I agree 100%. My human family is hurtful, selfish, arrogant, cowardly. They act like I'm the crazy one for having compassion for animals. It's only the animals in my family that have ever loved me or cared about me. I wouldn't know what love was if it wasn't for my dog. I would have taken a bullet for her without hesitation. To think of all the animals in the world being mistreated, abused, killed, experimented on, factory farmed, enslaved, etc. etc....well, it's a major reason why I can't believe there is a god.