They're called 'man's best friend,' and it's more than just a title.  A new study has found that people generally care more about dogs than they do about other humans - unless those humans happen to be kids.

The study, presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, was conducted by researchers at Northeastern University.  For the study, researchers evaluated the responses of 240 participants between the ages of 18 and 25 who were asked to read a fictional news excerpt about various subjects being abused -- a toddler, a 30-something adult, a puppy and a six-year-old dog. Then the respondents were asked to rate how much they cared about each subject.

The results showed that participants empathized most when the abuse occurred to dogs, regardless of age, and with the toddler.  They cared the least when the abuse happened to another adult.  

"The fact that adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full grown dog victims suggests that adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids," said Jack Levin, a professor at Northeastern University and a coauthor of this study.

The study targeted dogs, but Levin thinks the results would be similar for cats.  

"Dogs and cats are family pets," he said. "These are animals to which many individuals attribute human characteristics."

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