I believe (other creatures) know something members of our species—the planet stewards—have yet to learn.

by Betsy Robinson


Fall in New York City. What a relief. The cool, crisp air. The yellow, orange and crimson leaves of the trees in Central Park, the burnished dusk light as it hits the lake, and the absence of fishermen dotting the shores with their barbed and baited hooks poised to impale the sensitive lips and tongues of the unsuspecting fish below the glistening water. Signs all over Central Park warn that these fish are too polluted to eat, so the game here is “catch and release.”

For many years I chose not to eat animals. Now I do. I’m not a proselytizing vegetarian. There is a food chain, and I can understand and empathize with somebody in need of a meal making one out of an animal. I even respect the veneration and gratitude many such animal-eaters have for their prey. What I cannot possibly understand is the pleasure some people, with no need of a meal, take in proving they are stronger and more intelligent than a fish.

Every spring as I read the essays and listen to National Public Radio journalists wax poetic about the joy of fish torture, I am reminded that mine is not a popular perspective. The fishermen I regularly see along the banks of Central Park Lake have told me “Fish have no feelings.”

Nor do they have voices with which to scream, so the assumption is that it doesn’t bother them to be suddenly yanked out of their habitat, temporarily suffocated while the hook that is imbedded in their flesh is torn out. It’s not at all frightening or upsetting to be flipped and examined, then hurled back into the water.

Another man told me, “It’s a sport, and I don’t think of fish as animals.” 
And on one amazing occasion where the fisherman and his partner were laying their squirming catch on the ground in the sun so they could enjoy watching them frantically flop and slowly suffocate, I was told, “Well some people enjoy sadomasochistic sex.”

I have seen a child with his father gleefully count their catch, held in a small basin of water, lift a fish up into the air, squeezing it as if it were a particularly squirmy stuffed animal, and then, when it was near death, pitch it into the water like a skipping stone.

Several years ago I helped clean up the debacle left by a party of fishermen: hundreds of bamboo rods with miles of line and buckets of needle-sharp hooks left along the banks of the lake to ensnare whatever wild and other life came along. I have seen birds who have died slowly and painfully in that line, and I have pulled a hook out of my dog’s paw.

Children play barefoot along the lake, oblivious to what lies in the grass.
The fisherman who said he did not think of fish as animals told me this after playing with my dog and telling me about his pet ferret and guinea pigs and birds. And then, as if hearing the lunacy of what he’d just said, he shrugged and remarked, “I don’t care. I like it and I’m going to keep on doing it.”
And he does. I see him frequently and say hello. He’s an adult. A nice guy who just was never taught reverence for all life.

 Nor are the children so instructed. A year after the party debacle, hundreds of day camp children were invited by the New York City Parks Department to the shores of the lake to learn, under the tutelage and supervision of camp counselors, to torture and, in most cases, kill for pleasure with no respect for, or even recognition of the life they were extinguishing.

I am not a zoologist or an ethologist, but I believe that the majority of non-human creatures who share our planet do not torture each other, and they kill for only three reasons: food, defense of territory, and defense of life. I believe they know something members of our species—the planet stewards—have yet to learn.

But it’s fall. I sigh with relief until the spring.

Betsy Robinson has written for many publications in the USA and is currently Associate Editor of Spirituality & Health Magazine. Her first novel, Plan Z by Leslie Kove, was published last year by Mid-List Press.

This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 11, No. 4, issue 39, Spring, 2003  Copyright © 2003 by Renaissance Universal, all rights reserved.  Posted on the web on March 22,  2003.