Dogs, And Human Rights

Recently I stumbled across an interesting article, now several months old, about dogs and efforts to determine how their brains work. The article summarized the research and reached a provocative conclusion.

Determining how dogs think is not an easy task. (Insert joke here.) The problem, of course, is that they cannot communicate in the conventional sense.

IMG_0909The research involved training dogs to sit quietly so that their brain activity could be evaluated through operation of an MRI. The results focused an area of the brain called the caudate nucleus, which is found in both dogs and humans. In humans, the caudate nucleus shows activity https://webnerhouse.wordpress.com/?p=31933&preview=truewhen people are exposed to things they enjoy, like food, music, and love. The MRI testing showed caudate activity in dogs when dogs smelled their human companions or saw signals indicating that food was on the way.

The researchers think this indicates that dogs have emotions. It’s hard to imagine that research is needed to confirm that fact, which is pretty obvious to any dog lover. We know that our dogs can experience emotions — we see it in their eyes, in their wagging tails, and in their happy behavior when a loved one returns home. Come over to our house to see the reception Kish gets from Penny and Kasey if you don’t believe me.

The provocative conclusion of the author of the article is that, from a legal standpoint, dogs or any other creature that shows “neurobiological evidence of positive emotions” should be treated like people rather than property. Laws against abuse of animals isn’t enough; “limited personhood,” the author reasons, would better protect dogs from exploitation in puppy mills, dog racing, and other activities that interfere with the right of self-determination.

I’m as troubled by anyone by the mistreatment of dogs, and I think people who are cruel and abusive to dogs should be punished. But conferring “limited personhood” rights on dogs — and other animals that display emotions — starts us down a slippery slope where line-drawing becomes extremely difficult. How do you deal with the difficult decisions when a dog reaches the end of life? Would society be obligated to provide shelter and food for dogs that have none? Would dogs need to give consent before they could be neutered?

Penny and Kasey are part of our family and are treated as such — but they aren’t people.

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