Neuroscientist Gregory Berns: Studying dogs is way more enjoyable than studying humans

The US researcher on exploring the bond between dogs and humans and why animal testing needs to be questioned

Gregory Berns is a distinguished professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. His current work involves taking brain scans of dogs to probe what goes on between canine ears, as well as using scanning techniques to probe the connections within brains of dead animals, including the extinct Tasmanian tiger, the thylacine.

In your new book, you say a dog’s brain is about the size of a lemon …
That’s probably for a medium-size dog, like a labrador. Bigger puppies generally have bigger brains, so obviously you are not going to get a lemon inside a chihuahua’s head.

What’s the rest made of? Is it simply air between the ears?
You are not far off. There is a lot of air in the skull, especially in the front between the eyes and above the nose, there is a big frontal sinus and then around the sides it is all muscle.

When did you first guess” I know, I’ll stick my puppy in an MRI scanner “?
It truly was a weird eureka moment. The catalyst was the Bin Laden mission. There was a military puppy on the mission and they can do things like jumping out of helicopters and that was my epiphany. If a puppy can be trained to jump out of a helicopter, certainly we can develop a dog to go in an MRI[ scanner ].

Why did you want to look at the dog’s brain?
It was an idea in search of a question initially. But one of the first things that I wanted to know was, if we look back at dogs’ reward system- in terms of parts of their brain that are critical for motivation and, if you want to be a little philosophical about it, pleasure and what they like- do they hang around us humen just for food because we feed them or is there more to the dog-human bond than that?

You said that you watch a reward response in a dog’s brain to human odours and that is evidence of something like love. Could it not only be an association with food?
That procuring by itself could be association. But it is not just any human because it was only the smell of their human that triggered that response, so there is a recognition component there- but it still could be” Hey, this is the person who feeds me .” Which is why we did the other experiment of food versus praise, where we examined the response to the expectation of food versus the expectation of” Hey good girl !” We find most of the dogs had equal responses to both. One of the big messages I am trying to convey is that dogs are individuals too and in every experimentation that we have done we ensure a range of responses.

Wil, an Australian Shepherd, is put through the MRI scanner. Photo: Dustin Chambers/ NYT/ eyevine

The structure of a dog’s brain is rather different from a human’s- how far can we say there are analogous regions ?
That’s a good question. If you only seem physically at the brain, there are obvious differences in sizing, so immediately there is a challenge there to identifies corresponding parts in one brain with another. Humen have proportionally much larger frontal lobes, so there is more stuff there that a puppy does not have. So it is problematic to say that regions are analogous simply based on how they appear. But there is a functional analogy, which is really what I am talking about. The idea with a functional analogy is, if you have two individuals, whether they are the same species or not, engaging in the same activity or the same task and you assure a region of the brain that is active in the same condition in both cases, then you would say they are functionally analogous because they seem to be doing the same thing.

Is this a big project in anthropomorphism?
I don’t think so. I don’t claim puppies understand what we are saying the style we do. Some people are convinced their puppies understand what they are saying, but dogs don’t have the same quantity of brain real estate for processing language that we do.

There was a study recently about puppies manipulating their faces to communicate with humen. What do you build of that? Do they actually pull the big eye stunt?
Obviously they want to communicate with us because they live with us. They are very social animals; in my view, their greatest trick is how social the objective is – that is what makes them a puppy and not a wolf. But if a dog makes a particular facial expression, are we to conclude that they are trying to communicate with us or not? I don’t know.

When you look at a puppy in an MRI scanner and you insure activity in a region, do we know if that is down to supposes, an impulse, inbuilt or educate?
What is the alternative if they don’t think? Then we are back to what basically Descartes said, which is that animals have no thinks, that they are just a bundle of reflexes. That would be a Cartesian position of animals that I suppose most people would not accept any more. Most scientists would not accept that. In portion, that is because dogs and all animals have the ability to learn from the environment. They are at some level taking things into account, things that have happened to them, and altering their actions based on these things. To put it in words, they form predictions of how the world behaves around them and that includes other entities. To me, that is what supposed is. Now the thing I believe people get hung up on is that they don’t have an internal monologue like we do.

Do you think puppies have an imagination?
For sure. I believe all animals have a form of imagination. I think one of the major functions of a brain is to, for lack of a better term, imagine. Now that may be a bit anthropomorphic for your tastes, so the other route to think about it is that brains are necessary for prediction.

There was one incident you talk about where you had to kill a puppy as part of your work …
It wasn’t research, that was developing as a medical doctor. It was just what all “doctors ” had to do. Yeah, it left a lasting impression and I regret it greatly.

Do you think some animals have lower sentience so it is OK to eat them?
It is really tricky to kind of prioritise certain animals over other animals. At least in the western world , nobody is going to eat a dog, but that doesn’t mean they are more sentient or more intelligent than other animals that we do feed- it is because they are charismatic and we like them. On the face of it, that doesn’t seem right.

You talk about how in your experiments the dogs are not restrained but free to leave at any time, just as humans are. That is admirable, but how realistic an approach is that for medical research?
The problem with a lot of medical research is they use animals in ways that don’t even translate to human health. It is well known that rat and mouse physiology and the way they react to drugs is not very predictive of how humans react to drugs. So we do need to think severely about the use of animals in medical the investigations and whether it is really worth doing or not.

Do you see yourself as a modern Dr Dolittle?
No, I didn’t think it was going to end this way, but it is more enjoyable than analyzing people.

* What It’s Like to Be a Dog by Gregory Berns is published by Oneworld( PS16. 99 ). To order a copy for PS14. 44 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders only. Telephone orders min p& p of PS1. 99. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders only. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99

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Barbra Streisands dog cloning is a modern tragedy. Pets are meant to die | Stuart Heritage

To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of succumbing not that loved ones can be replicated in a lab if we cough up enough money, writes Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage

Barbra Streisand might not brim with the white-hot culture relevance she used to, but nobody can deny that she’s a trier. For example, when everyone’s back was turned, she went off and made her very own Black Mirror episode.

In her episode, a broken-hearted millionaire is well aware that she cannot bear to part with her sick dog, so she spends an inordinate amount of money to have it cloned. However, with every pas day, the millionaire realises the futility of her gesture. The clones don’t behave like the original, and the differences between old and new tear at her soul until she drowns the puppies in a lake.

Apart from the last part( it wouldn’t be Black Mirror unless it ended on a note of harrowing violence) this has all actually happened. In a recent Variety interview, Streisand revealed that her Coton de Tulear dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, were created in a lab. She had them attained, at great expenditure, from genetic material taken from her puppy Samantha, who died last year.

Tragically, she now hints that it might have been a mistake. The new puppies might look like Samantha, but don’t behave like her.” I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness ,” she said.

Without sounding too solipsistic, a big part of owning a pet is to learn about death. You take custody of an animal knowing that you’re likely to outlive it. While it’s alive you swaddle it in as much love as you perhaps can, and then it succumbs, and then you’re bereft, and then, slowly, you learn how to move on. Little by little, pets equip you with appropriate tools to deal with grief.

‘ Barbra Streisand refused to let go .’ Photograph: KMazur/ WireImage

I vividly remember the day my first pet succumbed- a guinea pig called Smartie. My mum satisfied me at the school gates and told me that Smartie had passed away that morning. She told me that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, and that I’d feel sad for a while, but the sadness would eventually fade. It would hurt, but it would be OK.

I recollect grappling with the enormity of the information. I was six, after all, and this was my first experience of demise. But I’m pleased it happened. It’s something that everyone needs to go through. Had my mum satisfied me at the school gates with a bubble-wrapped Smartie clone, and explained that there’s no such thing as demise so long as a South Korean laboratory continues to churn out exact genetic reproductions of everything you’ve ever loved at tens of thousands of pounds a pop, you can understand how it might have skewed my understanding of mortality a little.

And that’s the saddest part of this Barbra Streisand news. It isn’t that the clones were expensive and that her fund would have been better going to charity. It isn’t that she paid for them at all, rather than adopting got a couple of strays from a shelter. It’s that she refused to let go. She failed to grasp the most fundamental phase of life: it objective. And once it’s over, you can never get it back. Nothing- not prayer , not magic , not science- can replace what was gone. You can come close, but it’ll never quite be the same. Some things you just can’t run from.

* Stuart Heritage is a Guardian columnist

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How to dispose of a dead pet: is taxidermy the very best option?

Have you considered having your dead puppy stuffed? Or perhaps turning it into a rug? Or a drone? With no established style to mourn the loss of a loved animal, pet proprietors have turned to any number of curious methods

This year, a woman from Dundee posted an unusual ad for her puppy, Snoopy, on Facebook’s Marketplace. The unusual thing about it was that the dog was dead.” Had our dog turned into a rug when he died ,” the ad read.” Treasured family pet. Has to be sold as new puppy maintains trying to hump it. Lookin for 100 pound ONO. Very cosy and unusual piece .”

Cosy is questionable; unusual was an understatement. Snoopy’s flattened kind and smiling face were considered so shocking that editors on the Telegraph and Argus and the Dundee Evening Telegraph set warns at the top of their tales. By then the ad had already been howled off Facebook and the owner of the dead pet had backed away into anonymity.

What do you do with a dead pet? What is the appropriate parting to these beings that psychologists bellow “self-objects”, so familiar they are almost a part of you, sighing sympathetically while you weep, cavorting idiotically, loving you uncritically. How do you cope without the pet whose lifespan encompassed long-outgrown childhoods and that your children loved sometimes more than they loved their parents?

And why, when we stimulate desirable items out of leather, and admire stuffed animals in natural history museums and pass the mounted head of a stag without a second glance, why does turning this pet into an animal scalp seem so … incorrect?

Psychologists can explain how we love the way a pet offers uncritical, uncalculating affection in an otherwise conditional world. They talk of pets as witness to our lives. I’m with them on that. More than a year after the second of our own borders terriers died, her earthly remains, along with her mother’s from a couple of years earlier, are still boxed up just as they came from the pet crematorium. They live under a chair, out of sight, but not in any way finished with. For a start, we still have to summon the fortitude to say goodbye. And we can’t decide how to do it: burying in the garden, or scattering along the way of a favourite walk? Casual and informal, or with readings and tearful recollections? This is what they call disenfranchised grief.

Sam Carr, a psychology lecturer at the University of Bath who is interested in animals and attachment hypothesi, says pets are” there in every page of your narrative. When you lose that various kinds of figure, there’s a trauma .” It is a kind of bereavement, which demands some formal reaction. But there isn’t one.” I’ve never met anyone who either scalped or stuffed their pet ,” says Carr,” but I can imagine it offered some kind of respectful way of commemorating their life, maybe a tribute or a festivity .”

George Jamieson at work. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

George Jamieson, a taxidermist who works near Edinburgh, describes good taxidermy as” a frozen moment. It’s as if the soul of the animal is still there. It’s somewhere between not being able to let go and wanting to keep something of what was .”

Jamieson are applied to stuff pets, but now he find it’s too intensive, trying to make a realistic portrait of an animal that is already dead. He doesn’t say so, but I’m left with the impression that people who want their dead pets stuffed are psychologically needy in a way that someone who deals with dead animals for a living finds difficult to handle.

Victorians loved taxidermy. Death was a daily menace and the death of a loved one commonplace. Sentimentality seems to have been a way of holding fear close in order to control it. Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities exhibited homemade anthropomorphic dioramas of stuffed white rabbits garmented as small schoolchildren sitting in rows in a classroom. Others featured kittens at tea and animal bridals. It was a hugely successful guest attraction in Sussex( and, more recently, at the short-lived Brooklyn Morbid Anatomy Museum ). At Bitov Castle in Moravia, whole rooms are dedicated to the deceased pets of the castle’s last owned, Baron Georg Haas. Unlike the clumsy realisations in the Potter museum, the baron’s dogs, principally terriers, lie heads up, ears cocked, poised to leap up after a rabbit.

A pet, by definition, is an animal without special purposes, maintained for love and amusement. They have been maintained since at least classical times- we know because their lives were recorded on vases and stellae as lovingly then as they are photographed and painted and memorialised now. Pet proprietors have been scolded for their excessive attention to their pets in the face of the suffering of the world for just as long. And the negotiation between the pet as an animal( and therefore a beast without a spirit, ultimately lesser than a human) and the pet as a family member, which is part of the everyday business of being a pet owned, isn’t resolved by the pet’s death.

The work of Walter Potter at Potter’s Museum of Curiosity in Bolventor, Cornwall. Photo: Graham French/ Getty Images

Yet there has never been any culture accommodation with the peculiar nature of our attachment to some animals and not others. Most western guessed divides all humans from all animals. So although it is widely acknowledged that we can love animals as much as or even more than humans, western society has never developed culture forms that help us to manage the trauma of animal loss.

On the whole, pet devotees who do anything choose burying. Some people genuinely splash out. Pet cemeteries’ offers range from statues and trees to online tribute sites. Frederick the Great, the Prussian enlightenment monarch, built himself a summer palace at Potsdam, where he buried his beloved greyhounds and marked their lives with exquisite calligraphy on marble tablets, and when he died he was buried with them. Peggy Guggenheim, one of the few people since who could match both Frederick’s wealth and his love for his dogs, is interred with her terriers at her Venice palazzo.

There is even the “undeath” alternative: a cloning service is now available in South Korea. More often, though, people try to cheat the fact of demise by preserving the likeness of the living. Ronald, the pony that carried Lord Cardigan in the charge of the Light Brigade, has been split up into four feet( inkwells scattered around stately home in Britain) while his head and tail remain at his master’s home, Deene Park.

But something about our sensitivities has changed. The animal carpet- let’s call it the Dundee option- is now on the outer edge of platitude. Though not as far out as the Dutch artist Bart Jansen, who turned his dead cat, Orville, into a droning. Jansen insists he loved his cat, and denies there was an element of revenge in turning him into furry drone even though, when thwarted, Orville was a biter.

The Orvillecopter by Dutch artist Bart Jansen. Photograph: Reuters

About the same time as Snoopy went on sale in Dundee, I saw an exquisite, unmarked kingfisher that must have flown into a window. The russet and turquoise streak that I have only glimpsed once or twice on the periphery of my vision was lying just outside my house. The desire to preserve it was overwhelming- not an image, but the creature itself, so rarely find and still more rarely touched. Without truly supposing, I determined a taxidermist nearby and delivered the small body into her freezer, from where at sometime in the future I hope it will be resurrected. This, I realise, is what Damien Hirst entailed when he called his shark the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living.

Hirst is not the only contemporary artist who is fascinated by the dead/ aliveness represented by taxidermy. Nature morte , the French expression for still life, runs better as a literal translation. The artist Polly Morgan utilizes taxidermy to explore what was called in one of her exhibitions” the poetics of strangeness “~ ATAGEND. She and Hirst were both represented in a show of 18 contemporary artists in Rhode Island last year.

Of course, they used wild animals. We may try to avoid thinking about current realities of stuffing a wild animal, but it is not- yet- an uncomfortable idea. My stuffed kingfisher will not shock.

According to Clare Fowler, the taxidermist I took my kingfisher to, people who want their pets stuffed often come to her as I did, in a state of unanticipated bereavement. She thinks that taxidermy serves as a waypost in the process of grieving. The ones who call her in advance- she works in deep, rural Dorset- because they are going to have their pet put down, usually change their intellects after they have understood what taxidermy entails.

The day I go, she is working on an old lady’s pet cat, the second she has done for this client. It lies on her workbench- or at least the cat’s head, still attached to its empty scalp, lies there looking mildly astounded. Fowler will make a fibreglass mould from the body that the fur once encased, and then, after preserving the scalp, stretch it back over the artificial sort. This one will be a sleeping cat.” I like to do them sleeping. It looks passive, and I think it’s less difficult for the subconsciou. Sleeping ones are lovely and most people agree and go with it .”

Not all pet owners want a grief object. Fowler has mounted the head of a young man’s terrier on a shield. It was an unusual request, but it didn’t upset her.” Some people would be shocked, but no one would think twice about a deer or a game animal. I do get a few people attacking me on Facebook. But people want it done. And I love animals. I think they[ her critics] must think I’ve scalped them alive or something, but I love fur and feather and this is about maintaining that beauty .”

Her worst experience was a woman who first arranged for her cat to be stuffed and then asked her to take it out of the storage freezer and thaw it because she had bought a magical incantation on the internet that was guaranteed to bring it back to life. It didn’t work.

And then there was Elfie. Elfie was a cat who was fulfilling an important attachment role for her two owneds, Rachel and Matthew, whose relationship was going through a rough patch. Elfie was killed on the road when Matthew was caring for her.” I supposed, what would Rach want- I know, I’ll get her stuffed .”

Work by Polly Morgan. Photograph: Alex Lentati/ Evening Standard/ REX

The news of Elife’s death was broken to Rachel. In secret, Elfie’s unscathed body was rushed into a freezer, and then transported in an insulated box to Fowler in Dorset. Nine months later, the job was done. By then Rachel and Matthew were merrily back together, and Rachel knew about the preservation project.” Rach was over the moon ,” according to Matthew, and- this must be why they are together- she says:” I thought it was the most romantic thing ever .”

The not-dead Elfie sits alert at the top of the stairs.” She’s been through it a little bit, she looks a bit older ,” Matthew and Rachel concur.” Some people jump and shriek. The new cat is a bit puzzled. But we don’t get a big negative reaction. I know a lot of people don’t have taxidermy in their home- but we love it .”

For nearly a decade, up until about 2012, the British artist David Shrigley employed pet dogs and cats, stuffed, often standing anthropomorphically on their back legs holding placards saying:” I am dead “. It was an exploitation of the transgressive notion of stuffing a family member. Shrigley watches the pieces as something between black humour and a conversational gambit about the nature of demise. And life.

Since he acquired a puppy five years ago, Shrigley has abandoned use pets( although, he adds speedily, he never hurt an animal in his earlier run ). He says he wants his work to be more positive( his was the thumbs-up on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square last year ). Recently, struck by how the lambs gambolling outside his bedroom window were playing just like his puppy had, he stopped eating meat entirely.

” Taxidermy is such a weird thing ,” he says.” It’s supposed to be a the representatives from life. But it’s a the representatives from demise .”

Odder still is that as the number of Britons who, like Shrigley, take up vegetarianism rises( 6% now ), so does the passion for pets and for unusual, unexpected ways of preserving their memory.

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lyse puddle: Macron’s dog Nemo filmed urinating in president’s office

Does that happen often? junior pastor asks French leader after labrador-griffon cross relieves himself against a fireplace

Like other French chairmen before him, Emmanuel Macron knows the value of a photogenic puppy at the Elysee Palace. His black labrador-griffon cross, Nemo, is the first French presidential pet to come from a rescue centre, and since his arrival the summer months he has been photographed in the gardens and even standing to attentionon the palace steps to welcome Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou.

But two-year-old Nemo brought a whole new meaning to the term presidential leaks this weekend where reference is cocked his leg for a long and abundant wee against an ornamental fireplace in Macron’s gilded office during a filmed meeting between the president and junior ministers.

In the footage for the channel TF1, three junior pastors are in Macron’s ornate office talking to the president about inner-city investment when Nemo alleviates himself behind them. Macron and the ministers look on helpless until the dog finishes.” I wondered what that noise was ,” says the junior minister for ecology, Brune Poirson, who had been talking when the dog began alleviating itself.

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Italian woman granted sick pay for time off to look after her ill dog

Rome academic wins landmark court case where she argued that two days taken as leave to care for dog should be allowable

An Italian woman has won her battle to be granted sick pay for days she took off to look after her poorly puppy, in a first for the pet-loving country.

The woman, a Rome academic, won her instance with the help of lawyers from the Italian Anti-Vivisection League( LAV ), one of the biggest animal rights groups in Europe, the organisation said.

A judge accepted the lawyers’ example that her university should count her two days off under an allowance for absences related to” serious or household personal reasons “.

Their argument was underpinned by a provision in Italy’s penal code that provides for people who abandon an animal to” grave suffering” to be jailed for a year and fined up to EUR1 0,000.

” It is a significant step forward that recognised that animals that are not maintain for financial gain or their working ability are effectively members of the family ,” said LAV president Gianluca Felicetti.

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National emergency? Belgians respond to terror raids with cats

An official request for citizens to avoid tweeting anything that could inform terrorists what is going on resulted in a national outbreak of pet pics

When, on Sunday evening, Belgian police asked citizens not to tweet about the armed operations that were being carried out around the country, anyone could have been excused for reacting with fear.

Brussels in lockdown for a third day

Belgian forces searching for suspects in the aftermath of the Paris attacks told citizens to stay indoors and not go near their windows for safety reasons.

They also appealed for social media silence about any police action users might witness presumably to keep the suspects in the dark.

A tense time, no doubt. But Belgium reacted how else? with cats.

Instead of speculation about the sort of threat police might be reacting to, many people used the #BrusselsLockdown hashtag to post pictures of their pets.

Seimen Burum (@SeimenBurum) November 22, 2015

Don’t share info on situation #BrusselsLockdown that may help suspects. Confuse them with #cat pics @lopcute

Lore De Witte (@loredewitte) November 22, 2015

“I got this” #BrusselsLockdown

Delphine Jory (@Ladyblogue) November 22, 2015

#BrusselsLockdown en live.

anna-rose phipps (@lopcute) November 22, 2015

#BrusselsLockdown CodeNameSpinner

Amit Bhat (@amitbhatr) November 22, 2015

Don’t worry super cat is here #BrusselsLockdown

TineEeckhout (@TineEeckhout) November 22, 2015

May the force be with us. #BrusselsLockdown

JaneAustenMaMaschio (@ExTimUpperClass) November 22, 2015

#relax, Mes amis #BrusselsLockdown

melissa jacobs (@deathrep) November 22, 2015

#BrusselsLockdown You ROCK Belgian people! Showing the world how to deal with terrorism! Love from #NativeAmerica !

And after the all-clear was announced by officials with the news of arrests there was a sigh of relief and a message of gratitude.

CrisisCenter Belgium (@CrisiscenterBE) November 22, 2015

Thanks to the media and citizens for their silence online as asked during the juridicial intervention tonight #BrusselsLockdown

Belgian police later thanked the cats for their help.

Police Fdrale (@PolFed_presse) November 23, 2015

Pour les chats qui nous ont aid hier soir… Servez-vous! #BrusselsLockdown

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Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes

Ninety per cent of Britons think of their pet as part of the family 16% even included them on the last census. But recent research into animals emotional lives has cast doubt on the ethics of petkeeping

It was a Tupperware tub of live baby rats that stimulated Dr Jessica Pierce start to question the idea of pet ownership. She was at her local branch of PetSmart, a pet store chain in the US, buying crickets for her daughters gecko. The newborn rats, creaking in their plastic container, were brought in by a man she believed was offering to sell them to the store as pets or as food for the resident snakes. She didnt ask. But Pierce, a bioethicist, was troubled.

Rats have a sense of empathy and there has been a lot of research on what happens when you take newborns away from a mom rat not surprisingly, they experience profound distress, she says. It was a slap in the face how can we do this to animals?

Pierce went on to write Run, Spot, Run, which outlines the suit against pet ownership, in 2015. From the animals that become dog and cat food and the puppy farms churning out increasingly unhealthy purebred canines, to the goldfish sold by the purse and the crickets by the box, pet ownership is problematic because it denies animals the interests of self-determination. Ultimately, we bring them into our lives because we want them, then we dictate what they feed, where they live, how they behave, how they look, even whether they get to keep their sex organs.

Treating animals as commodities isnt new or shocking; humans have been meat-eaters and animal-skin-wearers for millennia. However, this is at odds with how we say we feel about our pets. The British pet industry is worth about 10.6 bn; Americans expended more than $66 bn( 50 bn) on their pets in 2016. A survey earlier this year found that many British pet proprietors love their pet more than they love their partner( 12% ), their children( 9 %) or their best friend( 24% ). According to another study, 90% of pet-owning Britons think of their pet as a member of their family, with 16% listing their animals in the 2011 census.

In the US, 1.5 m shelter animals are euthanised each year. Photo: Getty Images/ iStockphoto

It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldnt sell them for a million dollars, says Dr Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and one of the founders of the budding field of anthrozoology, which analyse human-animal relations. At the same hour, research is disclosing that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively simple animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once guessed( puppies are people, too, according to a 2013 New York Times remark piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns ). The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single facet of “peoples lives”, says Herzog.

Does this mean that, in 50 years or 100 years, we wont have pets? Institutions that exploit animals, such as the circus, are shutting down animal rights activists claimed a significant victory this year with the closure of Ringling Bros circus and there are calls to end, or at the least rethink, zoos. Meanwhile, the number of Britons who profess to be vegan is on the rise, skyrocketing 350% between 2006 and 2016.

Widespread petkeeping is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 19 th century, most animals owned by households were working animals that lived alongside humans and were regarded unsentimentally. In 1698, for example, a Dorset farmer are available in his diary: My old dog Quon was killed and cooked for his grease, which yielded 11 lb. However, in the 19 th and 20 th centuries, animals began to feature less in our increasingly urban environments and, as disposable income grew, pets became more desirable. Even as people began to dote on their pets, though, animal life was not attributed any intrinsic value. In Run, Spot, Run, Pierce reports that, in 1877, the towns of New York rounded up 762 stray dogs and drowned them in the East River, jostle them into iron crates and lifting the crates by crane into the water. Veterinarian turned philosopher Bernard Rollin recalls pet owners in the 1960 s putting their dog to sleep before going on holiday, reasoning that it was cheaper to get a new puppy when they returned than to board the one they had.

Nine per cent of British pet owneds love their animal more than their children. Photograph: Getty Images/ iStockphoto

More recently, however, several countries have moved to change the legal status of animals. In 2015, the governments of Canada and New Zealand recognised animals as sentient beings, effectively proclaiming them no longer property( how this squares with New Zealands recent war on possums is unclear ). While pets remain property in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 stipulates that pet owners must provide a basic level of care for their animals. Pets are also property in the US, but 32 countries, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC , now include provisions for pets under domestic violence protection orders. In 2001, Rhode Island changed its legislation to describe pet owners as protectors, a move that some animal rights proponents lauded( and others criticised for being nothing more than a change in name ).

Before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, consider that 1. 5m shelter animals including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats are euthanised each year in the US. The number of stray dogs euthanised annually in the UK is far lower 3, 463 but the RSCPA tells investigations into animal brutality cases increased 5% year on year in 2016, to 400 calls a day.

Can I stick my puppy in a car and take him to the veterinarian and say: I dont want him any more, kill him, or take him to a city shelter and say: I cant keep him any more, I hope you can find a home for him, good luck? tells Gary Francione, a prof at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey and an animal rights proponent. If you are able to do that, if you still have the right to do that, then they are still property.

Crucially, our animals cant tell us whether they are happy being pets. There is an illusion now that pets have more voice than in the past but it is maybe more that we are putting words into their mouth, Pierce says, pointing to the abundance of pets on social media plastered with witty projections written by their parents. Maybe we are humanising them in a way that actually builds them invisible.

If you accept the argument that pet ownership is morally questionable, how do you put the brakes on such a vast industry? While he was writing his 2010 volume, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Herzog was analyse the motivations of animal rights activists and whether it was emotion or intellect that pushed them towards activism. One of the subjects, Herzog tells, was very, very logical. After he had become a vegan, shunned leather shoes and convinced his girlfriend to run vegan, he considered his pet cockatiel. I recollect; he looked up wistfully. He said he got the bird, took it outside, let it loose and it flew up, Herzog recollects. He said: I knew she wouldnt survive, that she likely starved. I guess I was doing it more for myself than for her.

Although Pierce and Francione agree that pet ownership is wrong, both of them have pets: Pierce has two dogs and a cat; Francione has six rescue dogs, whom he considers refugees. For now, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical: we do have pets and devoting them up might cause more damage than good. Moreover, as Francione suggests, caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; persuading people of the opposite is a hard sell.

Tim Wass, the chair of the Pet Charity, an animal welfare consultant and a former chief officer at the RSPCA, concurs. It has already been decided by marketplace forces-out and human nature current realities is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and properly?

If the short history of pet ownership tells us anything, it is that our attitude towards animals is prone to change. You see these rises and autumns in our relationships with pets, says Herzog. In the long haul, I think petkeeping might fall out of fashion; I think it is possible that robots will take their place, or perhaps pet owning will be for small numbers of people. Cultural tendencies come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.

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Vetted raises $3.3M to treat your pet at home

Whats worse than going to the doctor? Taking your pet to the doctor.

Not only is it a major hassle to actually transport your puppy or cat to the vet, but you usually end up paying route too much for way too little time spent with the actual veterinarian.

Vetted wants to change this. The startup offer on-demand veterinary services to your house for a flat $99 fee. To help achieve this, theyve raised $3.3 million in seed fund fromFoundation Capital, with Amplify LA, Sterling.VC and ReimaginedVentures also participating.

The viability of Vetted rests on the practicality of performing veterinary services on your living room floor. ButAli Shahid, co-founder and COO of Vetted, says that 89 percentage of questions related to veterinarian visits can be treated at home including skin, ear, eye and gastrointestinal issues.If your pet has a major issue that requires a procedure done in a sterile and specialized environment, Vetted will direct you to a local brick-and-mortar veterinarian that theyve vetted( pun intended ?)

So while a Vetted veterinarian wont be able to treat all issues, they probably can treat a lot more issues than you think without having you trek into an office. They also explained that vet techs call the owner after each appointment is scheduled to discuss symptoms over the phone, and determine if the questions can be treated at home before they even arrive.

Included in the $99 fee is an exam, Q& A, nail clippings and ear cleanings( which most vets charge extra for) and a follow-up video or telephone call. Any additional services like inoculations or prescriptions are also provided at 25 -4 0 percent cheaper than brick-and-mortar veterinarians. Unlike some on-demand companies that are opaque about their pricing and monetization strategy, Vetted is pretty up-front about it. These cost savings essentially come from not having to pay the overhead costs like rent and maintenance associated with a physical location.

Other companies are also working in this space Treat, based in San Francisco, also offers $99 visits, as well as the option to chat online with a vet before they come visit. PawSquad is an U.K.-based startup doing the same thing overseas. But the market is huge calculates tell Americans expend around $60 billion a year on their pets so theres definitely room for multiple players, especially if theyre currently all tackling different regions.

Right now Vetted is just live in West Los Angeles which helps give it a response time of less than 90 minutes as long as they have a veterinarian available. Theyll slowly expand throughout Los Angeles and Orange County, with this new funding being used primarily for broader western coast expansion.

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