In relation to a person's emotional rapport with an animal, is empathy possible? Sympathetic concern for animals is often judged, sometimes correctly, as being a sentimental, anthropomorphic projection. Sheer subjective sympathy toward an animal, without objective understanding of its behavior and needs, can lead to erroneous assumptions as to its well-being, and to misjudgement of others' treatment of animals as being cruel. Empathy is possible when the "feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another" can be vicariously experienced: thus when there is objective knowledge about what an animal's overt behavior signifies, and what emotional states, intentions, and expectations such overt behavior reflects, empathy is possible. Without such objective knowledge, we have sympathy and varying degrees of anthropomorphization. Understanding and sympathy combined make empathy possible.
Fox, M.W. (1984). Empathy, humaneness and animal welfare. In M.W. Fox & L.D. Mickley (Eds.), Advances in animal welfare science 1984/85 (pp. 61-73). Washington, DC: The Humane Society of the United States.