A recent paper by Richard Topolski at George Regents University and colleagues, published in the journal Anthrozoös, demonstrates this human involvement with pets to a startling extent. Participants in the study were told a hypothetical scenario in which a bus is hurtling out of control, bearing down on a dog and a human. Which do you save? With responses from more than 500 people, the answer was that it depended: What kind of human and what kind of dog?
Everyone would save a sibling, grandparent or close friend rather than a strange dog. But when people considered their own dog versus people less connected with them—a distant cousin or a hometown stranger—votes in favor of saving the dog came rolling in.
...We jail people who abuse animals, put ourselves in harm's way in boats between whales and whalers, carry our childhood traumas of what happened to Bambi's mother. We can extend empathy to another organism and feel its pain like no other species. But let's not be too proud of ourselves. As this study and too much of our history show, we're pretty selective about how we extend our humaneness to other human beings.
My own dog over a stranger? Pfft, it doesn't even qualify as a choice. Even in a case of a strange dog and a strange person, ehh, I'm still leaning toward the dog. Sorry, but the mere fact of membership in homo sapiens doesn't mean anything to me. I refrain from actively inflicting pain or making anyone else miserable, but that's as far as it goes. I'm certainly not moved by quasi-religious exhortations to believe in humanity's elevated importance.