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A fascinating book proves my father wrong along with all the outdated information you’ll retrieve when you search the internet.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.
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.