In a questionnaire on the Dognition site, 72 percent of owners reported that their dog suffers from mild to extreme separation anxiety, likely similar to what the elephant calf felt.
"This anxiety is manifested as whimpering, whining and howling when the dog is separated from a loved one," Hare said. "So dogs may not cry with tears, but they certainly can cry with vocalizations to say they are anxious, stressed or lonely."
Over half of the owners also reported that their dogs actively try to comfort or console them when they are sad and weeping, so the dogs seem to understand the person is in distress.
At such times, a dog might rest its head on the owner's lap or nuzzle the individual. In each case, the dog is making comforting physical contact -- the same kind that a human baby or elephant calf is hard-wired to crave. Human hugging might be akin to a dog nuzzle or a mother elephant using its trunk to caress a calf.
Writer and naturalist Virginia Morell agrees the elephant calf could be crying as human babies do, but that science has yet to fully prove that.
"Are those tears of sorrow?" said Morell, who is also author of the new book "Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures." "They certainly look like he's weeping, but that's the part scientists can't yet answer. He needed a loving touch, as all newborn mammals do. His caregivers tried to give him this and eventually succeeded."
Morell pointed out that it's stories like these that inspire researchers and so the news may lead to more definitive findings on animal emotions.
"Not so long ago, people thought that we were the only animals that could laugh, but now we know that rats and dogs and chimpanzees do as well," she said. "Laughter, in fact, may be a universal emotion in all mammals. If so, why not sorrow?"