The emotional and cognitive lives of animals

My husband and I take turns trying to outdo each other with this question: Would you rather have five minutes in Uno’s head or a million dollars? No matter what the second choice is – eternal youth, incredible wealth, an unending supply of guacamole – a few moments inside the brain of our dog always wins.

It’s hard to believe that there are still those out there who would argue that animals don’t think and, even more astonishing, don’t feel. And while I don’t need science to tell me that my dogs experience thought and emotion, I’m thankful for the studies that prove it, thereby holding humans accountable for the way we treat animals.

If you’re not familiar with the research, a good place to start is the HSUS interview with two of the leading scholars in the field of animal emotion and cognition: Marc Bekoff and Jonathan Balcombe. Among their learnings: Elephants grieve. Bats display altruism. Birds feel depression. Hippos seek pleasure.

And that’s just the beginning. Read Bekoff’s The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding our Compassion Footprint for a compelling, scientific account of why humane treatment of animals is our only ethical choice.

PS. To those that cry “Anthropomorphism!” — assigning human characteristics to non-human beings — I respectfully disagree. It may be difficult to prove that your dog truly loves you, but the same could be said of your spouse, your sister, or your best friend. What’s much easier to prove, based on brain composition and testing, is that animals feel fear, joy, pain, and distress. Subtler nuances, which may well be unique to humans, are irrelevant.