The Human Element: Pets are People, Too

We’ve always treated our dogs and cats like a part of the family. Today, new research and experiments teach us that our pets are a lot more like us than we may think. From surprising talents to human-like brain waves, our four-legged friends are showing their skills in ways that make us proud to call them “man’s best friend.”

At the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center, researchers are going above and beyond drug and bomb-sniffing by training dogs to sniff out cancer. Dogs’ high level of olfactory smell sensors makes them the ideal candidate for this kind of training, explained Working Dog Center director Dr. Cynthia Otto, who is training three dogs to sniff out ovarian cancer in tissue samples.

Pups have been picking up the skills quickly, and the hope is that they will one day offer a non-invasive alternative for cancer screenings. Otto believes there may be something innate in dogs’ abilities to pick up on different odors, just like how wild animals tend to shun sick members of their packs in the wild.

Cats are dipping their paws into the treatment world, too. One café in Paris, Café des Chats, is offering “purr therapy” for patrons looking for a pick-me-up. Café Manager Margaux Gandelon said that she noticed the therapeutic value of cats’ company upon introducing a dozen rescue cats to her café. “Purring produces vibrations which heal, which relieve arthritis and rheumatism, which lower your blood pressure and your heartbeat,” she said. For busy Parisian residents who are unable to have pets of their own, a cup of coffee paired with a relaxing kitty snuggle at Café des Chats is just what the doctor ordered.
Doctors and scientists have spent years studying the behavior of animals to try to analyze what they are thinking. The inability to study a dog’s active brain waves left us wondering what’s really going on in our pup’s head… until now. Emory University neuroeconomics professor Gregory Berns and his colleagues have trained dogs to lie awake and unrestrained in an M.R.I scanner. An M.R.I requires the patient to be awake and completely still in order to truly study brain function. Now that these dogs are able to meet these conditions, we are able to access a never-before-seen view of what goes on in our dog’s heads.
The exciting conclusion come to by Berns was that “Dogs are people, too.” Although the studies are just beginning, they have already found many similarities between the dog and human brain. Similarities between an area of the brain called the caudet nucleus, which plays a large role in the anticipation of things that humans enjoy, were particularly striking. This early research seems to indicate the existence of canine emotions, making them more human-like than ever before.
Our pets continue to surprise us every day, from they way they seem in tune to our emotions to their many talents and skills. In what ways does YOUR pet surprise you?