Yes, we humans love dogs. Perhaps in some circumstances more than we care about other human beings. We have all seen those heartbreaking pictures of injured or neglected dogs and cats in the ASPCA ads. Our response is to send in those needed donations. We also respond to pictures of human children in dire circumstances. However, struggling adult humans do not garner our sympathy to the same degree. Why is that?
The "Harrison" Comparison
A 2015, British medical research charity did an experiment while raising funds for dogs and raising funds for people. The charity published two advertisements to raise funds for "Harrison". In one campaign, "Harrison" was a human. In the other campaign, "Harrison" was a dog. The dog fundraiser received much more public attention and more donations.
Do We Love Dogs More Than Adult Humans? We Do Show Dogs More Sympathy!
In another study, by a group at Northeastern University in Boston, 240 people were given one of 4 different versions of a fictional abuse story. In all four stories, an assailant wielded a baseball bat. All victims received the same "injuries", a broken leg, and lacerations. The story said the police found the victim unconscious shortly after the attack. The assailant had not yet been apprehended. The difference between the 4 stories was the type of victim. In one version the victim was a one-year-old child. In the other versions, the victim was either a thirty-year-old adult human, a puppy, or a six-year-old dog.
Test subjects recorded the same level of sympathy for the child victim and the puppy victim. The age of the victim has a significant effect on how we react. However, the adult dog also received more sympathy than the adult human victim. The authors suggested that puppies, dogs, and children are all considered dependent and vulnerable. They need our emotional support. Adult human victims are often considered self-sufficient, and even sometimes partially (even though wrongly) at fault when they are victimized. We, therefore, are less sympathetic to their plight.
I Do Worry About the Dogs
Okay, I will admit it. I do like to watch a scary Steven Spielberg movie and even enjoy some cinematic versions of Stephen King novels. But there is one thing that Spielberg does that King rarely does. I find Spielberg's work more enjoyable to watch because Spielberg does not kill the dog! In both director's/writer's works, the human characters are often fully at the mercy of the various nefarious elements. The stories often have family pets involved. In a King novel, the family dog likely becomes part of the horror. In a Spielberg production, I become anxious for the pet but have learned not to worry as much for its survival. Actually, this is no insignificant quibble. Human sympathy for dogs is a real thing.