In my opinion

Ana Veciana-Suarez: Do we pamper our dogs too much?



White Sox holds a special place in my heart. An important part of the family, star of both funny and poignant tales, she is more devoted to me than some of my relatives. The Hubby claims I dote on her.

True. But do I think my sweet mutt is equal to a human and worthy of personhood? No way.

Many may disagree with me. The notion of pup as person has been growing in popularity for years.

And a provocative piece in The New York Times seems to offer more reason to consider the idea. A professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University suggests that, after studying canine brain scans, man’s best friend is a lot like a person. “Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: dogs are people, too,” writes Gregory Berns.

Berns presents his case rather persuasively, noting that there is “a striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region,” known as the caudate nucleus, which is activated when we recognize things we enjoy.

In other words, when dogs are exposed to hand signals that indicate food or when an owner returns to a room, the caudate lights up. “The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.”

That may come as a surprise to the dogless, but it’s hardly a new revelation to those of us who are greeted at the door every evening by a wagging tail and a slobbery kiss. Other studies, including one four years ago, have shown some dog breeds are as smart on an IQ test as a 2-year-old.

But is that reason enough to justify all the pampering? In many ways we treat our pooches better than we treat our poor, our homeless, our hungry.

Long before there were brain scans and university studies mapping canine intelligence, there were indulgent pet owners who cosseted their animals to the tune of $60 billion a year. Some of this goes toward food and vet bills, of course, but much of it finds its way to jewel-studded collars, Halloween costumes, chewy toys and comfy dog strollers.

Consider: Dogs now have their own cable station. DOGTV, available on Direct TV, describes itself as the first television network exclusively for canines. Its 24-7 programming “helps stimulate, entertain, relax and habituate dogs with shows that expose them to various movements, sounds, objects, experiences and behavior patterns, all from a dog’s point of view.”

It won’t be long before someone markets a special flat screen for wet noses.

In addition to their very own channel, dogs also have their own camps. These aren’t kennels or boarding houses, but elite recreational resorts where Lucky and Princess can splash in a pool and relax in the spa. In comparison, dog parks seem incredibly quaint.

Dogs even set fashion. The trend in New York this past summer was the “puppy purse,” also known as a doggy bag, slung over the shoulder to tote that cute Yorkie or Chihuahua to work or to the cafe. They sold for up to $100.

I do love White Sox. She’s smart, sweet and more attuned to my moods than certain family members. But… but!

A dog is a dog is a dog. Regardless of IQ, they roll around in poop if we’re not supervising. They drag dirty underwear to the living room when visitors come calling, nip at the heels of children running across the yard and sniff each other’s butts in greeting.

Personhood for this crowd? Surely we are tugging at the leash of sanity.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

Read more Ana Veciana Suarez stories from the Miami Herald

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