About Empathy, Dogs, and Humans

I recently ran across this article online, “New Studies Show Humans Love Dogs More Than Other Humans,” which begins…

What if a human and a dog stood side-by-side and both needed help, but you could only choose one. It wouldn’t be an easy decision, would it? Some studies reveal when it comes to feeling empathy, many people pick pooches over other people. Does that surprise you?

That got me to thinking. At times humans do indeed show more empathy toward animals (specifically, in this case, dogs) than they do toward other humans. It is not the first time I have read this, but every time I am fascinated by it; not only because I have seen the impact that dogs (and cats) can have in the lives of people—including my own!—but also because it can become very uncomfortable when you have to think about comparing the value of your pet with that of other people.

Dogs become like family members to us. They are unconditionally accepting of us, and are mostly welcoming. Humans, on the other hand, can be very difficult and challenging. Having a pet (dogs especially, for some reason) is often a meaningful catalyst for our relationships with humans. Truth be told, humans are much more complex to get to know and relate to, while dogs and cats can be relatively uncomplicated in their relationships with humans. It should therefore not be too surprising to find that humans can be quite critical of their human counterparts (and hence less empathetic towards them) while being more forgiving of and empathetic toward their dogs.

I guess I am wondering how relevant it is to compare our relative levels of empathy for animals versus humans. I am not sure what we might gain by comparing such very different types of relationships—though clearly we need them both!

What are your insights on this subject?

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