For one thing, they likely deserve it.
Researchers say this is down to a perception of vulnerability.
Professor Jack Levin and Professor Arnold Arluke, from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, examined the opinions of 240 people who received one of four fictional news articles.
One concerned the beating of a one-year-old child and a second an adult in his 30s. The other two were about a puppy or a six-year-old dog being abused.
The difference in empathy between child and puppy was 'statistically non-significant'. But the dog garnered more feeling than the adult.
Professor Levin told the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association: 'The fact adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full-grown dog victims suggests adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids.