I don’t enjoy animals that can only look at me with one eye at a time. Birds, lizards, fish. Those staring eyes have always kind of creeped me out.
So no one was more surprised than I when we found ourselves with a tank full of fish a few years ago. Someone from school gave Orlando this enormous fish tank, so in trying to be a good sport I played along with the idea of fish pets. I was hoping at least we could fill it with beautiful, tropical looking creatures that would remind me of the beach. Make me think of sunshine and Coppertone. No such luck. Our fish tank is filled with goldfish. Dirty, ever-growing goldfish. Believe me when I tell you this was not by choice.
Several Fall Fests ago each of our boys won a goldfish. (For those of you who don’t know, Fall Fest is a carnival sort of thing our church hosts every year.) We carted them home in Chinese soup containers and set them loose in our new, big watery box. Okay, so no big deal, we have four goldfish in our tank. We can still get prettier ones to add in, right? It didn’t quite turn out that way. The next Sunday morning I arrived at church and began to find Chinese soup containers everywhere. Fish included. In the coatrooms, in the bathrooms, on the counters. I ended up with nine containers of abandoned goldfish. What’s a girl to do? Not having the heart to flush them or let them die a slow, oxygen-less death, we added them to our tank. So much for the tropics. Now we house 13 boring goldfish.
Except one of them isn’t quite so boring.
Among our common-as-cornflakes variety of goldfish, we have one fishie that isn’t really gold at all. She’s white. With a long elegant tail that sweeps in the water as I might imagine an angel’s wings would move. She’s a goldfish, but she’s a mutant of some sort. The only way you could identify her as belonging to the goldfish family is by a small, orange circle on her side. Our boys affectionately named this fish “Dot.” And needless to say she is the favorite in the tank. Maybe because she’s the prettiest, or maybe just because she’s the only one that is distinct from the others.Dot has been our only named family pet for going on three years now.
So what to do with these fish as we consider moving to Nebraska has been a serious point of consternation for us. My vote has been to give them to someone to use in an outdoor pond. Most of them have become quite large to be in a tank. (I often tell Orlando that some of them are big enough to filet. :)) Plus I can’t even begin to conceive of how we would get them there alive. I can just see Dominick sitting in the van with a bucket of fish on his lap, getting sloshed by the water every time the van stops too quickly. Or heaven forbid we find them all floating, bottom up, in the merciless, 120 degree heat that will overwhelm the inside of our van when we stop for lunch at McDonald’s. Iowa in July could kill anybody, much less a cold-blooded fish. Orlando is, of course, much more gentle about it. “We’ll find a way,” he says. “We don’t want to add trauma to an already hard enough event.”
“Trauma? They’re not real pets. They’re just fish for goodness sakes! One step up from bugs!” (Who, generally speaking, can at least look at me with two eyes at a time!)
“Not to the boys,” he says. “And what about Dot?”
Well, okay, he’s got me there. Maybe we can leave the rest behind and take Dot along. She’s just one fish. We could take her into McDonald’s with us in one of those fashionable, fish-carrier things. It could work. Maybe.
So imagine the scene the other day when Orlando noticed Dot wasn’t moving so well in the water. She was hardly swimming, and when she did, she tilted to one side and sunk back to the bottom. Her spine looked bent almost, as if she were curling up in pain. It didn’t look so good, and for a species that, generally speaking, is dead or alive with no in between, it appeared to us that Dot was on her way out.
Ever the practical member of the clan, I began to think what a blessing this could be. It will be so much easier to leave the fish behind if there is no Dot in the mix. It’s hard to miss a nameless fish. So I was thinking happy thoughts about the demise of Dot. Until Nicholas ruined it for me.
Benjamin and Nicholas have shown the most love toward the fish. Dot was “Benjamin’s” fish, meaning he was the guy who initially won her. Upon seeing that she was sick, he got up and left the room. I checked on him, but he was fine. I think he just didn’t want to see her die. But not Nicholas. Nicholas came into the room and sat in his dad’s lap and wailed. Watching her pathetic swimming efforts, that little boy would not leave her proverbial side. Big, mournful tears falling down his face. He cares about this little, mutant creature as much as I might love a warm, cuddly puppy. So much for being one step up from a bug. I put him to bed while he prayed earnestly for the health of this fish, so great his love for the little beast.
Ugh. Now what do I do?
Well, my mother’s heart got the best of me and I did what I do best. I got out my computer and googled “Fish swimming sideways,” and treasure hunted around for information on sick fish. I found out that goldfish can have all sorts of physical ailments that people actually treat them for. Seriously, did you know you can buy antibiotic goldfish food? Who knew? After reading fish blogs and fish medical reports for an hour, I finally came to conclusion that Dot had a common ailment known as “Fish Bladder Disease.” The cure? Feed her cooked peas without the outer skin.
So Orlando scooped her out of the tank, put her in a bucket, and I shelled peas and dropped them in the water until she actually ate one. And then I fed the rest to the other fish just in case they were thinking of swimming sideways, too.
And today, She looks much better. Still a tad bent, but swimming straighter and definitely not hanging out at the bottom of the tank. The fish doctor info said recovery would take 3-5 days, so it looks like we’re off to a good start. Benjamin and Nicholas were chattering at the tank this afternoon. “Dot, you’re swimming so great! You look so much better! Yay!” they squealed in their little boy voices.
And I must admit I feel a bit relieved. One tragedy averted and one mommy educated. I had no idea that a child could care so much about a fish. I guess a pet doesn’t need to be cute and cuddly to be valued. It doesn’t even need to be something you’ve chosen to have. It just needs to be alive. It just needs to be yours.
So I guess I’ll be holding a sloshing bucket of fish all the way to Nebraska this summer. Oh my, and it’s such a long drive. I wonder if they make “fish Dramamine”?
Our "filet-able" fish, with Dot off to the right
Nicholas with the fish, a few days after we brought them home.