For better or worse, corporations are considered to be people in certain ways. So why not dogs?

A wildly popular recent New York Times story posits that MRI scans of dogs' brains show that dogs' ability to experience emotion is about equal to that of a human child.

The Times writes:

And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.

One alternative is a sort of limited personhood for animals that show neurobiological evidence of positive emotions. Many rescue groups already use the label of “guardian” to describe human caregivers, binding the human to his ward with an implicit responsibility to care for her. Failure to act as a good guardian runs the risk of having the dog placed elsewhere. But there are no laws that cover animals as wards, so the patchwork of rescue groups that operate under a guardianship model have little legal foundation to protect the animals’ interest.

If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.

Of course, many other things would be banned as well if dogs were afforded all the rights that human persons -- just be patient for a second with the terminology -- are granted. For instance, could dogs still be kept as pets? What would really be involved, if we were to think of dogs as persons?

Let's look at the example of another kind of non-human -- albeit one without sentience -- considered to be persons in certain circumstances: As Citizens United foes and boosters well know, corporations are granted certain First Amendment protections. They can sue and be sued. And corporations are also subject to criminal liability -- here's the Heritage Foundation, which favors the Citizens United decision, arguing that corporations should not be considered persons in the criminal context. (One jurisdiction considered giving corporations the right to vote, too.)

corporation person

And these are just a few of the rights and obligations afforded to these "metaphorical persons," as Yale Law School professor John Witt put it on NPR, explaining that "a corporation can be prosecuted for a crime, which is something that usually only persons can be prosecuted for. But on the other hand, corporations get rights. They get rights to contract. They can't marry or run for office or vote, but they can speak."

Free speech for dogs might annoy the neighbors too much. And you could say that dogs are already subject to criminal liability, to the extent that "dangerous animal" laws affect canine freedom.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals tried to go many steps further, when the group argued before a federal court that SeaWorld violated the Constitution by keeping orcas as "slaves." The judge in that case, which denied the animal rights group's attempt to extend the Constitution to marine mammals, wrote that "the only reasonable interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment's plain language is that it applies to persons, and not to non-persons such as orcas."

But one judge's conclusion that animals aren't afforded constitutional protections isn't the end of the story. As the Boston Globe reported earlier this year in a fascinating article, a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project is planning to file a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a chimpanzee.

Lawyer Steven Wise told the Globe that he "has certain rights in mind" he's hoping to see afforded to animals by the court:

Specifically, the right of liberty and bodily integrity. In practical terms, this could mean that people could petition a court to free a qualifying animal from a zoo, or ban its use for food, entertainment, or medical research.

Stacy Wolf, a lawyer with the ASPCA and senior vice president of the organization's anti-cruelty group, has a more modest goal: She'd like to see the law treat animals, including dogs, as more than mere property. In other words, to use the evidence that dogs share characteristics with actual human people to spur a conversation about which legal rights of personhood they ought to be granted.

"Right now in every state they're eventually chattel. They're property. They're like your couch," she said. "And so even though there have been some small movements in the direction of recognizing that they're really not that, the law still looks at them as property."

Wolf said that she recognizes some conceptual problems with thinking about animals as persons, seeing as they are not, in fact, people. But to the extent that The New York Times piece advances the idea that animals have emotions, and that "psychological harm is real harm," she said, it can also help advance the law.

For example, laws could be passed to allow law enforcement to remove pets from, say, dangerous situations "before animals have already suffered harm," she said. "Being able to, in a more widespread way, recognize that endangering them, creating situations where they're likely to experience harm, pain, suffering, are situations where there should be intervention."

Wolf said she "can't even contemplate" the law moving beyond those small, but important, steps at this point, toward the slippery slope (very slippery, in the case of orcas) of granting animals constitutional rights such that keeping them in captivity would amount to slavery.

The ASPCA said in a statement that the group "supports much more expansive legal protection for animals under the law. The precise shape that protection will take is what this exciting conversation recognizing animals as living beings with emotions and the capacity to feel pain and love, is all about."

"I sort of feel like, letting the gate open to a really robust discussion, among people who have really different radical views, it's going to be great," Wolf said. "Because I think what it's going to do is, it's going to require that we move to a place where animals are accorded greater protection. And it's going to require that we figure out what that really should look like."

Final (vegetarian) food for thought: Georgetown University philosophy professor Bryce Huebner, who writes about animal cognition and ethics, tells HuffPost that he doesn't think the MRI experiments talked about in The New York Times piece actually tell us anything new about dogs' brains.

"We already knew that dogs were special," he said, adding that we know that they are "attuned to us," as well as being able to "track all sorts of things that we find emotionally salient."

But none of this means that we should protect dogs because they're persons, Huebner said. "I think that we shouldn't make dogs lives miserable, and that we shouldn't cause them pain or abandon them," he said, "but that's because they are dogs."

Oct. 14, 12: 45 p.m.: This story was updated with a statement from the ASPCA.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • A new born gorilla baby hangs on its mother N'Yaounda in Budapest Zoo on January 14, 2010. The baby gorilla was born on January 5, weighing approximately 1.5kg. AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK

  • A new born gorilla baby hangs on its mother N'Yaounda in Budapest Zoo on January 14, 2010. The baby gorilla was born on January 5, weighing approximately 1.5kg. AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK

  • A gorilla male sits in the enclosure 'Gorilla's Camp' at the Amneville zoo, eastern France, on April 04, 2012. Ya Kwanza, a silverback gorilla male, also arrived with seven other gorillas from other western zoos, as part of a the European breeding of Endangered species Programm (EEP) to promote their breeding. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

  • A gorilla male holds carrots in the enclosure 'Gorilla's Camp' at the Amneville zoo, eastern France, on April 04, 2012. Ya Kwanza, a silverback gorilla male, also arrived with seven other gorillas from other western zoos, as part of a the European breeding of Endangered species Programm (EEP) to promote their breeding. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

  • A baby lowland gorilla in its habitat at the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo on October 26, 2010 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER

  • Two male gorillas are seen in the enclosure 'Gorilla's Camp' at the Amneville zoo, eastern France, on April 04, 2012. Ya Kwanza, a silverback gorilla male, also arrived with seven other gorillas from other western zoos, as part of a the European breeding of Endangered species Programm (EEP) to promote their breeding. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

  • Yeboah, a 12-year-old male gorilla (L) is pictured with Effie (R) at the London Zoo, in London, on March 1, 2010. Ooh la la! A frisky French gorilla on the prowl in Britain has been turning on the Gallic charm full blast, London Zoo said Monday. Yeboah, a 12-year-old stud, was given pictures of the zoo's three more experienced female gorillas in advance and was left under no illusions: it's time to be a man. Zaire, 35, Effie, 16 and Jookie, 11, were left bereft after their silverback mate Bobby died in December 2008. AFP PHOTO/Ben Stansall

  • Gorilla mother 'Baghira' holds her baby 'Kajolu' in their enclosure at an animal park in the souhern German city of Munich on January 22, 2010. The Gorilla baby was born on December 7, 2009 after a gestation period of 225 days. AFP PHOTO DDP / OLIVER LANG

  • Two male gorillas are seen in the enclosure 'Gorilla's Camp' at the Amneville zoo, eastern France, on April 04, 2012. Ya Kwanza, a silverback gorilla male, also arrived with seven other gorillas from other western zoos, as part of a the European breeding of Endangered species Programm (EEP) to promote their breeding. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

  • Ya Kwanza, a silverback gorilla male, walks in its enclosure 'Gorilla's Camp' at the Amneville zoo, eastern France, on April 04, 2012. Ya Kwanza arrived with seven other gorillas from other western zoos, as part of a the European breeding of Endangered species Programm (EEP) to promote their breeding. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

  • Ya Kwanza, a silverback gorilla male, stands in its enclosure 'Gorilla's Camp' at the Amneville zoo, eastern France, on April 04, 2012. Ya Kwanza arrived with seven other gorillas from other western zoos, as part of a the European breeding of Endangered species Programm (EEP) to promote their breeding. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

  • A Western Lowland Gorilla eats an orange while holding a Christmas pouch at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo on December 25, 2010. The Gorillas received Christmas presents from the zoo keepers to celebrate the festivities. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

  • A Western Lowland Gorilla named Piko eats an orange while holding a Christmas pouch at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo on December 25, 2010. The Gorillas received Christmas presents from the zoo keepers to celebrate the festivities. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

  • A Western lowland gorilla eats popcorn from a pot as a Christmas treat at Taronga Zoo in Sydney on December 21, 2011. Various animals were also given early Christmas enrichment treats inside boxes wrapped in colourful paper to arouse their curiosity. AFP PHOTO / Torsten BLACKWOOD

  • Western lowland gorillas 'Kriba' and her daughter 'Kipenzi' search for Christmas treats at Taronga Zoo in Sydney on December 21, 2011. Various animals were also given early Christmas enrichment treats inside boxes wrapped in colourful paper to arouse their curiosity. AFP PHOTO / Torsten BLACKWOOD

  • SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 21: A Western lowland Gorilla eats Christmas treats at Taronga Zoo on December 21, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. Animals received Christmas themed enrichment foods as part of the Zoo's regular program to encourage the animals to forage for food and help improve hunting abilities. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

  • A gorilla tries to grab with his mouth a tree banch that he put on his neck at the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles, California August 12, 2011. The Los Angeles City Council voted today to pursue plans leading to a possible privatization of the zoo, an idea described by its chief advocate as ``the only model'' available to the cash-strapped city if it wishes to keep the attraction open. City officials say the change would save nearly $20 million over the next five years but opponents of the plan question the savings and warn that privatization could mean steeper ticket prices for the zoo's 1.5 million annual visitors and less transparency when it comes to animal welfare. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck

  • HYTHE, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: A Western Lowland Gorilla clutces her baby at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park on June 21, 2011 in Hythe, England. Port Lympne has welcomed a host of new arrivals this year with wildebeest, colobus monkeys, gorillas and rhinos all adding to the current stock. Port Lympne and Howletts Wild Animal parks were set up by the late John Aspinall to protect and breed rare and endangered species and, where possible, return them to safe areas in the wild. The Aspinall Foundation which runs the parks also manages two gorilla rescue and rehabilitation projects in the central African countries of Gabon and Congo where they have successfully reintroduced over 50 gorillas to the wild. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

  • Ambam, a 21 year old Silverback gorilla, walks on his hind legs at Port Lympne zoo in Kent south east England, on January 28, 2011. The male name Ambam, is part of a bachelor group of critically endangered Western lowland gorillas at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent. AFP PHOTO/Ben Stansall

  • Gorilla mother Dian holds her baby Quembo on January 6, 2011 at the zoo in Frankfurt/M., western Germany. Quembo was born on December 20, 2010 at the zoo. AFP PHOTO FRANK RUMPENHORST

  • Bambo, the baby gorilla, sleeps on its mother N'Yaounda in their place of Budapest Zoo and Botanic Garden, on November 12, 2010. AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK

  • Nine-day-old gorilla lays in the hand of its mother Kijivu at the Prague Zoo on May 3, 2010. AFP PHOTO MICHAL CIZEK

  • New born gorilla lays in the arm of her mother Kijivu at the Zoo on April 24, 2010, in Prague Zoo. PHOTO AFP/MICHAL CIZEK

  • Gorilla mother 'Baghira' holds her baby 'Kajolu' in their enclosure at an animal park in the souhern German city of Munich on January 22, 2010. The Gorilla baby was born on December 7, 2009 after a gestation period of 225 days. AFP PHOTO DDP / OLIVER LANG