This New York Times article was about empathy and animals, specifically about the emotional connections humans have (or imagine themselves to have) with their pets. It made an interesting point about how humans largely "empathize" with those creatures who most resemble them:
Researchers trace the roots of our animal love to our distinctly human capacity to infer the mental states of others, a talent that archaeological evidence suggests emerged anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Not only did the new cognitive tool enable our ancestors to engage in increasingly sophisticated social exchanges with one another, it also allowed them to anticipate and manipulate the activities of other species: to figure out where a prey animal might be headed, or how to lure a salt-licking reindeer by impregnating a tree stump with the right sort of human waste.The concept of empathy for me must be like the concept of global warming to some -- although many people believe that it exists, personal experience makes me (1) doubt that and (2) wonder whether even if it does exist to some extent, people are using it largely to promote their own personal agendas (see also war). Even if people are actually feeling empathy, does it really just mean that they are attributing their own characteristics to others? Not that that is a worthless thing, just that maybe my inability or unwillingness to assume that everyone else thinks and feels like I do ("empathize") is not necessarily the horrible thing that it is made out to be.
Before long, humans were committing wholesale acts of anthropomorphism, attributing human characteristics and motives to anything with a face, a voice, a trajectory — bears, bats, thunderstorms, the moon.
James Serpell, president of the International Society for Anthrozoology, has proposed that the willingness to anthropomorphize was critical to the domestication of wild animals and forming bonds with them. We were particularly drawn to those species that seemed responsive to our Dr. Dolittle overtures.
Whereas wild animals like wolves will avert their eyes when spotted, dogs and cats readily return our gaze, and with an apparent emotiveness that stimulates the wistful narrative in our head. Dogs add to their soulful stare a distinctive mobility of facial musculature. “Their facial features are flexible, and they can raise their lips into a smile,” Dr. Horowitz said. “The animals we seem to love the most are the ones that make expressions at us.”