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Recent developments in brain imaging science indicate dogs may experience actual emotions, just like humans. Through the use of M.R.I. technology, Gregory Berns, professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, has discovered that many of the same things that activate the part of the human brain known as the caudate nucleus, which are associated with positive emotions, will also activate the dog caudate. (See full N.Y. Times article here).

This new scientific evidence supports a further departure from the legal standard limiting recovery for injuries to pets at market value. The Court of Appeals took a step in right direction in the matter of Martinez v. Robledo, (2012) 2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 1098, holding that, in addition to market value, a pet owner may also recover the reasonable and necessary costs incurred for the treatment and care of the pet attributable to the injury. (See here for a fuller discussion of this case.)

For a family in Minnesota, that value is the difference between life and death. After Christi Smith put her 4 year old to bed one night, the rescue pit bull she has been fostering for less than a week began acting erratic. The 10-month old dog named TaterTot seemed to sense something was wrong with Christi’s son, Peyton, and began licking and jumping on him. Next, TaterTot assumed full Lassie status, whining and barking at Christi, and running back and forth between her and Peyton until Christi finally went to check on him. Peyton was barely breathing, and was thereafter rushed to the hospital, where it was discovered his blood sugar was dangerously low. Thanks to TaterTot’s quick thinking (yes, that’s right), Christi believes her son’s life was saved. (See here for the full story).

While Lassie may have been a fiction, TaterTot is quite real to his new family (yes, he’s earned himself a permanent home as Peyton’s best friend). Many would argue that dogs and other animals accomplish heroic feats of all sorts, and that their contributions as disabled persons service animals, rescue dogs, drug/guns/bomb sniffing dogs, companions and such establish that their true value far exceeds their market value. Hopefully, science will continue to advance our understanding of the animal brain to the point where pet owners will not be left holding the bag should their beloved animal be injured.

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