How do I feel about fish for pets? Don’t ask. Dogs are social animals, long domesticated, and picking up a dog or cat from a shelter or other rescue situation (then spay/neuter them), like all 6 of the cats and 2 of the dogs I and/or my family has had since I was a tot, works pretty well. Hate pet stores; loathe the whole breeder thang. Visit the Humane Society or SPCA for many good reasons why. Even when adopted in good ways, cats who are kept in miss the outdoors and those who are let out attack birds and lizards. Dogs are like having a kid in many ways and need a lot of attention. Plus, of course there’s a lot of mistreatment of dogs and cats out there, and I wish we made people pass tests and get licenses to own pets (like they do in England). Exotics? I also have a fairly pat answer, as you can guess. Leave the wildthings to the wild…if you can find any “wild” left on this planet. Birds? Need to fly. No cages in my house.
But wait…a fishtank is a cage, you say. Indeed it is. I cannot relate to the idea of pet-as-pretty-thing-to-look-at. Get a sculpture of a fish. Nor do I groove on the “Let’s see if I can keep them alive by manipulating habitat” science experiment approach. I don’t know what fish feel or don’t feel, but they sure do stare at me out of the tank, and I sure wish they were in a lovely pond or river or lake. But Chad does his best to make a good “home” for them, my son likes to look at them (he stopped his responsibility of feeding them long ago), and neither of us knew they’d get huge and creepy and deformed…and ill…and dead.
I guess that’s not entirely true. Our last tank, maybe ten years ago, featured the mother fish that had babies (in a nice separate little holder to keep the other fish from bothering them) and then ate them and pooped out 13 little baby fish skeletons. Eventually, the whole tank of them went belly-up. And we never knew why. Even the fish store (loathsome places that they are with their salt water tanks full of delicate lovely alien creatures that should NEVER been in a tank) couldn’t figure it out when they tested the water.
But we tried again a few years ago, and Chad worked diligently to keep the water at the right balance and temperature, got live plants, cool rocks to swim around and through, etc. We tried to pick “plain” goldfish that we could give a “decent” life to. They flourished and grew, we got a bigger tank…and then…grossness.
Goldfish of certain varieties bred for their “beauty” and for competitions (mostly by the Chinese and Japanese) develop those big blobby things on their heads/faces called the “wen.” Apparently, breeding for competition does not include breeding for viability. The wen can grow right over the whole head, the eyes, everything. So you get “beautiful” blind fish. And that began to happen to our fish that my son named Black Knight Black Moon (BKBM). He got blobbier and blobbier and his eyes got more and more covered til there was about ¼ visibility for the poor thing. It was hard to look at him. Meanwhile, a second fish, named RedCap, got blobby, too. But his wen didn’t cover his eyes, just got huge and bloblike, with little hangy pieces. He and BKBM and the third fish, Fishy, had absolutely gorgeous long tails, beautiful fins, sparkly scales, ate heartily, and seemed relatively healthy and content, given the limitations of tank life and breeders’ obsessions.
But then BKBM developed a swim bladder disorder. He lost the ability to control his direction in the tank, often floating up or standing on his nose, so to speak, at the bottom of the tank. We tried every suggestion we found online and by calling a fish vet in Knoxville. Nothing worked. And one day, just to have a little control over his body, BKBM wedged himself inside an animal skull we had in the tank that the fish could swim into and through. He got stuck while we were gone for the day, shredded his tail, and was bleeding. The charming plecostomus we also have in the tank (still unnamed) was being gracious enough to suck the blood off of him and helped shred him some more, I suspect. By the time we freed him and took the skull out, he was traumatized (trust me, you can tell) and even worse off.
So a month or two went by, and BKBM finally started to regrow a beautiful healthy tail. He always “stood on his head” at tank bottom, but he ate well and seemed to be coping with his wretched disabilities. When the accident happened, I really wanted to put him out of his misery, but Chad gave me the science lecture about fish brains and nerve systems, and expressed his sincere belief that BKBM wasn’t truly suffering…at least not enough to kill him. Sigh. I appreciated this lecture because there is, apparently, no confirmed humane way to put a fish to death.
Anyhow, BKBM regrew his tale and coped. Until this week, when something again happened and he reshredded his tail. He began to float at the top not bottom, though he was still alive. And his face was tinged with pink, blood. A few days later he finally died. And I was so glad he was out of whatever misery he might have felt, and I was out of my misery, watching him go through all this wretchedness.
So: we hope Fishy, RedCap and the pleco continue to thrive. And may BKBM be reincarnated into a lovely healthy fish, far far out at sea. Maybe a nice big shark that lives far from any trace of humanity. Whatever the case, know this: after these fish pass away, THERE WILL BE NO MORE FISHTANKS IN ANY HOME I CHOOSE TO LIVE IN. EVER.
Note: the fish pictures on this page are not our fish but pics I found online that look very similar to Fishy (top) and the late lamented Black Knight Black Moon.