The Hook Hurts!

Oct 5, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Pets

by Judy McFadden

When my Dad took me fishing for the first time as I was a little girl, it upset me to see the fish twisting and jerking wildly at the end of the fishing pole. I asked my Dad if the hook was hurting the fish’s mouth. He assured me that fish don’t feel the hook. He said that fish don’t have feelings in their mouths. Still, it bothered me because the fish didn’t seem to know that judging from its reaction.

The worm presented another problem for me. I watched my father impale the length of the worm on a sharp fishing hook. As it wiggled and squirmed violently, I asked my Dad if the poor little worm was in pain. “Worms don’t have feeling, Judy.” I must not have believed him though. During a fishing outing when I grew up, I was accused of killing a worm with a rock so it wouldn’t feel anything when I put it on the hook. Not true, but a source of amusement when told at family gatherings.

A fascinating book proves my father wrong along with all the outdated information you’ll retrieve when you search the internet. The information states that fish, worms, lobsters, etc. cannot feel pain because they have primitive or no nervous systems. Baloney! Animal Wise: the Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures by Virginia Morell shed light on many misconceptions about animal intelligence and feelings. One is that fish do have nerves in their mouths that enable them to feel pain and that they have intelligence, too–and the poor lowly worm is smarter than we think.

What is it in humans that compel us to place ourselves above animals and refuse to attribute feelings and emotions to them? Is it because it makes it easier to kill and eat them? You don’t see them now, but I remember the livestock carriers on the roads in Pennsylvania where I was raised. On a hot, humid summer day, you could smell them from miles away, and getting stuck behind one on the two-lane, winding road was pure torture. The pigs or cattle were packed so tightly that they couldn’t move without water or food for days in the unbearable heat. It broke my heart hearing their frantic cries, but because they were on the way to be slaughtered for our consumption, somehow that made it okay. It’s not much better now; only out of sight. News reports surface from time to time about the inhumane treatment of Colonel Sanders chicken, MacDonald beef, or fish raised on fish farms. Then they go away and we can continue eating our chicken fingers, Big Macs and fish fillets in peace.

Animals are intelligent, feeling creatures and deserve humane treatment. My article, Dumb Animals published in Kings River Wild Magazine provides proof that animals are smarter than we realize. Ongoing research like that published in Morell’s book is revealing more and more startling information every day. I wrote a book about my Scottish terrier therapy dog, McDuff and how he outsmarted and sometimes frustrated me to tears with his off-the-chart intelligence. I know many pet owners have stories to tell about their experiences as well.

Mc Duff

Albert Schweitzer said, “We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.”

Check out KRL’s review of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog by Judy McFadden. And you can find more pet related articles and stories in our Pets section.

Judy McFadden, author of Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog, lives in Grove City, Ohio, and speaks to audiences about the benefits of animal assisted therapy and reading programs like Therapy Dogs International and Reading with Rover. Please see


  1. Judy McFadden’s article, as well as her very touching book, serves as a gentle reminder that we must respect life itself if we are to respect ourselves.

  2. Author Judy McFadden knows that if you look into the eyes of animals, you will see their awareness. They deserve our compassion.

  3. I always enjoy Ms. McFadden’s articles. She has great taste in her comments regarding all animals. And speaking of taste, Judy has long ago convinced me that animals do have keen sense of taste. I’m on her side regarding fish and the supposed theory that they don’t ‘feel’ anything, especially a sharp hook. As Judy has often written, and I believe her, the poor creatures do feel plenty! The story of her father and his fishing practice sends chills. I hung up my pole a few years ago.

  4. Judy McFadden’s post indicates that she has a heart and soul for all living creatures–both human and nonhuman. She was concerned about the fish hook, and she remembers that experience to this day. That experience is just one that shaped the person she is today, a wonderful, respectful person who is loved by nearly all who know her. I’m proud to call her my friend.

  5. I loved the book Life with McDuff! Judy loves her dog and he was very smart. She shared his talents often with hospitals and schools.I remember her talking about her father and she was always concerned for animals. This article is very good. Thank You Judy

  6. Nice article Judy. It enlighten me and inspired me to see all animals differently, not just my favorite ones. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Judy has such insight when it comes to all animals. I can totally relate with her thoughts that the poor little fish do have feelings, and have never been able to fish myself. Life With McDuff is a wonderful example of her special relationship with the animal kingdom.

  8. Thank you, Judy, for sharing what I always sensed was true.

  9. Judy’s sensitivity and questioning of her father makes one realize that she possessed, at a very tender age, a unique compassion coupled with a healthy, insightful maturity. In all likelihood, this fishing endeavor was probably intended to be part of the family’s evening meal. Knowing Judy, as I do, she would have gladly forfeited her dinner, “hook, line and sinker,” to spare this slippery little creature of its fate. If you have not read Life with McDuff, I strongly urge you to do so. You will understand how and why this charming and sensitive little girl developed into a beautiful and compassionate woman.

  10. Excellent article, Judy. You have a true gift of reverence for all living things–even the squiggly little worm. Thank you for sharing and guiding others toward a better understanding.

  11. Thank you for sharing your experiences and guiding us toward better understanding. Your gift of insight reminds us ALL life deserves our compassion and respect.

  12. Your experiences remind us that all animals should be treated in a humane manner. It does make one give serious thought to becoming a “vegan”.


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