Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Do Animals And Fish Feel Pain?

I was out squirrel hunting a couple days ago and ran into what appeared to be a deer killed by coyotes.

Of course, there was no way for me to tell how the deer died. I could not find a bullet wound or large blood stains that would be caused by one. You can only kill bucks in the area I was in, so if a hunter did kill it, he was poaching. It also could have died of disease.

The deer was fairly fresh, maybe one or two days old. It did not smell. The hind quarters and intestines had some older damage, but the meat on its front quarter was still bright pink and bloody. One of its front legs was missing and I could not find it in the immediate area. This is what makes me think of coyotes. I can't think of another animal in the area that could do this. We do have bear, but I have never seen bear sign in this area.  It's eyes were gone, so crows or buzzards had been feeding there.

This made me think of how much suffering is in nature. If this dear died from a coyote attack it must have died painfully. One of the hallmarks of a good hunter is the ability to kill an animal as quickly and painlessly as possible. I've always wondered how much animals feel pain.

This subject was recently discussed in a YouTube video by Ted's Holdover (an awesome YouTube hunting channel). Go ahead and view the video:

In the video a bird is shot. Its wing is terribly broken. However, instead of running away, the bird continues to feed. It seemingly does not feel any pain.

You cannot draw conclusions from one instance. That is bad science. Regardless, it does make you think.

It is fairly impossible to find unbiased research on this subject. The animal rights groups are all over it. Even Wikipedia does not have good clear info on the subject. I believe this is because there is so little info on it, not because Wikipedia is biased for or against animal rights. If you even ask the question online you are accused of being a heartless psychopath.

Anyone with a pet knows that animals do feel some sort of pain. When you accidentally step on your dogs foot it yelps. Pain is an important function. When you, or any other animal, touches something hot your body reacts to the pain by pulling back. This is a defense mechanism that prevents you from further injury. After the initial hurt, you do not feel pain for a while. This is your body giving you time to flee whatever is hurting you. After a while your injury begins to hurt again. This is your body telling you to protect the hurt area, so it will heal. Without this process you would be seriously injured or killed fairly quickly.

The question is not really IF animals feel pain, but HOW they feel pain. Some believe that all animals, including fish feel pain just as we do. Others believe that they feel pain based on their level of consciousness. A monkey feels pain more than a cow, which feels pain more than a fish, which feels pain more than a bug. Still others believe that animals do not register pain as we do, they know something is wrong, but do not suffer.

I did find one paper on the subject that was not written by an animal rights activist or someone defending slaughter houses. Tell Me if it Hurts: Investigating Whether Animals Feel Pain by Caroline Feldman discusses these same things. While she does not come to any conclusions, the paper is worth reading. One interesting question she raises is if catch and release fishing is more or less moral than catching and eating fish. If you keep the fish, it endured pain for a reason; nutrition. If you let it go, the pain was only to give the fisherman pleasure, but the fish lives on.

My wife in a neonatal intensive care nurse in a level four NICU. She is at the top of her game, one of the best in her field. (You can tell I'm proud!) She tells me that years ago doctors did not believe that premature babies felt pain as we do. It was believed that they were not developed enough to feel pain. It was not until fairly recently that pain medication was administered to premature babies. With the simple inclusion of pain medication the mortality rate dropped dramatically. While the babies cannot tell us, it is believed that in the past they were in so much pain their little bodies could not take it.

I tell you this to illistrate that just because an animal cannot tell you it is in pain does not mean it is not in pain. We can tell that animals and fish have the nervous system neccisary to feel pain. What we don't know, and what no one can prove, is how they perceive pain.

I can only tell you what I believe. This is only based on what I have seen in nature.

I believe that animals and fish feel pain very much as we do. I believe when an animal is initially hurt, they feel the pain sharply. Have you seen a rabbit do a back flip after being hit by a bullet? I also believe that animals have a very long flight period. This is where the initial pain subsides as their body gives them time to escape. Deer can run for an amazing amount of time with greavious wounds. How far could you run while shot in the gut? I also believe that the long term pain as a result of the injury is felt just as intensely as we feel it. Animals just have a will to live that superseads the pain. God has made them tougher and given them the ability to withstand pain.

This is, of course, all my opinion. Just like every other conclusion on the subject.

This leads to one other issue. Many believe that causing pain is bad because pain is bad. The fact is, pain has no morality. It is part of nature just like birth and death. Lets go back to the deer killed by a coyote. It suffered more in nature than it ever would have by the hands of a responsible hunter. Is nature evil because it caused pain? No! By that standard, neither is anything else that causes pain in the natural process of life. Yes, I believe hunting is part of the natural process of life.

I'm not talking about torturing or abusing animals, that is evil. I'm just saying that pain is not bad, it is actually quite good. Without it people and animals could not avoid injury or heal. Understanding pain and how animals experience pain will make you a better hunter. It will also make you work harder at proper shot placement in order to cause as little pain as possible.

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