Second Chance: Dogs Are People Too
Many research studies, journals, and books in circulation address questions of animal behavior from a scientific perspective to determine why dogs act a certain way and if they have feelings similar to ours. Science or no, many of us have a strong belief that dogs (and other animals)are feeling creatures. I thought an article in last Sunday’s New York Times entitled “Dogs are People Too” would be another elaborate study to tell people what they already know – but using scientific study to “prove” the assumption. But the implications are far more interesting and therefore noteworthy.
In summary, the research involved the author, neuroscientist Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, performing a canine study using an M.R.I. scanner and “volunteer test subjects,” i.e. dogs trained to remain still inside the machines. Brain activity can’t be tested on sedated animals.
Berns’ work is unique in that the application of an M.R.I allows him to look directly at a dog’s brain, bypassing the constraints of behaviorism and telling us about dogs’ internal states based on the activity. (We can look into their eyes, but we really can’t ask a dog how he is feeling). Initial significant findings are of “the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.”
In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, such as food, love, and money. Caudate activation is so consistent that under the right circumstances, it can predict human’s preferences for food, music, and even beauty. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate and which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology – and it may be an indication of canine emotions.
Again, for many of you who live with dogs, that’s a giant “duh”: of course dogs have emotions, but the the study brings it all home:
“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.”
So the possibility science can now prove the emotional life of dogs is the critical piece of this research, which could potentially change the status of dogs (and then other animals as well). Disposable property? Would you give away or toss out a child?
In fact Berns even suggests this:
“One alternative is a sort of limited personhood for animals that show neurobiological evidence of positive emotions…. If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.”
Berns was realistic in conceding that society is many years away from considering dogs as persons – corporations yes, dogs, no? – but he did cite some recent rulings by the Supreme Court that have included neuroscientific findings and opened the door to such a possibility in the courtroom.
And now may I introduce our Pets of the Week – the two babies out at Angel Ridge Ranch…
My name is Blaze. At only a few months old I was “disposed of” at a local campground and I was not happy about that at all. Fortunately I was found and taken to Second Chance where I was cleaned up, nourished, and am now awaiting adoption. Needless to say, I am all for the concept of a legal case arguing for a dog’s rights based on brain-imaging findings – especially if it means that other animals don’t have to go through what I have been through…
And I am Gemma, at about three months old, I am quickly learning the world is actually a pretty fun place, that is, now that I am safely at Second Chance after some scary weeks fending for myself with one of my litter mates. The staff and volunteers here at the Ranch have helped me to like and trust people again and although my littermate has been adopted, I am still finding other playmates here to get my fun on with. Just waiting for my special someone or someones…
Editor’s note: It’s no secret. The Telluride region is dog heaven. Well, pet heaven. Unless you are one of our furry friends who gets caught in the maw of neglect and abuse. Then heaven is on hold until Second Chance Humane Society comes to the rescue. Second Chance is the region’s nonprofit dedicated to saving animals’ lives and promoting responsible pet parenting and human-animal bond. In her weekly blog, executive director Kelly Goodin profiles at least one, generally two of the many animals now living at the no-kill shelter, Angel Ridge Shelter, a dog and a cat, hoping to find them loving permanent homes. The column is sponsored by Ted Hoff of Cottonwood Ranch & Kennel, who from time to time exercises his skills as a dog whisperer, partnering with Kelly and her staff to help train a particularly challenging animal.
By the by, there is no better place to park your pup than Cottonwood whenever you head out of town (for locals) or are heading to town and staying somewhere that does not allow pets. Consider joining Ted’s Very Important Dog (VID) Club for added benies. (Details on Ted’s website.)
Second Chance Humane Society Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shop are both located in Ridgway, but service San Miguel, Ouray & Montrose Counties. Call the SCHS Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter, Volunteer, Feral Cat, or other Programs. View the shelter pets and services online:www.adoptmountainpets.org.
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