The answer is much more than you may realise. It has only been in recent years that science has accepted the enormous empathy that animals can give, pet owners have always known. Many years ago I was attending a course on Animal Therapy and because I had a 7mth old pup at the time I was told to bring him along: there were about thirty people there and we went to sit in a circle in a big barn. I was told to take his lead off, and immediately panicked thinking he would be trotting around cocking his leg; the instructor insisted he would be fine in the middle with her. He stayed next to her, no restraint, she just rested her hand on him for about half an hour. He then moved about, again I panicked, and again she told me to leave him alone. Then a strange thing happened: we were discussing pet bereavement and he kept turning round and looking at a lady, he then went over to her and climbed up putting his paws on her shoulders and she burst into tears. Again I was told to leave him alone whilst he, and she, cuddled each other for a few minutes. She then told us that she had recently lost her dog and wouldn’t be in a position to have another for some time. How did that puppy know that out of 30 people that lady needed comforting.
Another incident took place many years ago in a hospital I used to visit with one of my German Shepherd Dogs. There was a lady who had suffered a stroke and couldn’t speak but loved to touch the dog and make little noises to him. Unfortunately she had another stroke and was unconscious or unaware of anything around her, at first there was no reaction and her family would talk to me and the dog as I went to her bed; then one afternoon as we talked, her hand moved on to the dog’s face as he rested against the bed. I cannot emphasise enough how excited we all were. Nothing else happened for a bit and we felt a bit despondent then after about three more weeks, as the sound of his feet clicked along the floor she opened her eyes and looked at him. We moved over to her and she smiled and moved her arm, from that point she made a reasonable recovery back to her usual condition. Her family were so thrilled, because they felt that she had not responded to any of their voices but it was the sound of the dog that brought her round, they tried to do a video film of him with her but unfortunately he didn’t like the camera following him.
A third story involves my current German Shepherd bitch, she was a rescue, a bit wary of other people, but the same type of thing happened with her. At a meeting a young couple had just had to have their dog put to sleep and of her own accord she went and sat with them putting her paw on their laps, and the three of them cuddled for a few minutes. She had never met these people before but understood their pain.
Horses are also very empathic and will respond with gentleness in the most unusual situations, in fact any animal is capable of empathising with another living being, particularly if love and kindness has been shown to them, whether that has come from a human or another animal they are close to